Rights groups question Nigerian hard-line Islamic leader’s death

Bodies of hard-line Islamic rebels killed in battle lie in a Nigerian city. Civilians and troops have also died.
Human rights groups in Nigeria are questioning how a fundamentalist Islamist sect leader died.

Mohammed Yusuf was initially reported captured Thursday by the military, but was found dead after he was turned over to police. “We demand a full investigation into the circumstances of Mohammed Yusuf’s murder,” Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, said Friday. “Whether he was a militant leader or armed rebel, dying in police custody is not same as dying in armed combat.” Yusuf’s sect, known as Boko Haram, wants the government to impose strict Islamic law, or sharia, in the entire Muslim-dominated northern section of Nigeria. Sharia already is practiced in some northern states, but the sect wants even tougher religious laws. The sect also opposes Western education. Southern Nigeria is predominantly Christian. At least 400 rebels, troops and civilians have died since fighting began Sunday, triggered by the arrest of some members of Boko Haram. The group retaliated by attacking police, military and government institutions in Bauchi state. The violence quickly spread to three other states, prompting a major response by troops.

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“Mohammed Yusuf’s corpse was displayed outside police headquarters in Maiduguri all night for people to see,” said Murtala Sani Hashim, who is with Jamat Nasril Islam, the second-highest ranking Islamic body in Nigeria. His body had numerous bullet wounds, he said, including one to the back of Yusuf’s head. “I believe he was killed in a shoot-out. … I saw his body with bullet wounds,” Usman Ciroma, a spokesman for the governor of the state of Borno, said Thursday. “I have just come from the police station and seen his body.” Earlier in the day, Col. Ben Ahonotu, the commander of the Nigerian government security forces’ operation in the north, said Yusuf had been captured, described him as “healthy,” and said he would be turned over to police. There has been no official explanation of Yusuf’s death. Nigeria’s military claimed Thursday that it had raided the sect’s compound and killed one of its leaders as the battles intensified. On Wednesday, troops seized control of a Boko Haram stronghold in the city of Maiduguri in Borno, and killed the deputy leader of the group, Ahonotu said.