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Islamic militants in Nigeria attacked police in three northern cities Monday, killing dozens, a day after an attack in another city, Bauchi, that killed at least 30. The conflict is a sign of worsening sectarian tensions between the oil-rich African nation's Muslims – who dominate in the north – and Christians, who dominate in the south.
The BBC reports that two Islamic groups that oppose Western-style education – one called Boko Haram, which means "Education is prohibited," and another calling itself the Nigerian "Taliban" – have been involved in the violence.
A gunbattle raged for hours and a police station was set on fire in the northern city of Potiskum Monday, while the group known as the "Taliban" clashed with security forces in another nearby city, Maiduguri, the BBC reported. A third attack took place in Wudil, a town about 12 miles from Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. The BBC called the three attacks "coordinated."
Some of the militants follow a preacher who campaigns against Western schools. Mohammed Yusuf says Western education is against Islamic teaching....
Sharia law is in place across northern Nigeria, but there is no history of al-Qaeda-linked violence in the country....
[Boko Haram] is seen locally as a fringe group and has aroused suspicion for its recruitment of young men, and its belief that Western education, Western culture and science are sinful.
On Sunday, attacks in the city of Bauchi left at least 30 dead, according to sources cited by The New York Times. This Day, an African news service, put the number killed as high as 150, based on reports from eyewitnesses.
This Day said Boko Haram is agitating for the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, throughout Nigeria, but said the group's radical views "are regarded as completely out of tune with the teachings of other Islamic sects, especially regarding peaceful coexistence."
Meanwhile, the state Governor, Mallam Isa Yuguda, has described the fundamentalists as militants, urging Nigerians to see it as a national issue.
"Their plan is to attack everybody," he said, while announcing a curfew from 9pm to 6am. "Governors should brace up and clean their states of this rubbish."
Human Rights Watch has drawn attention to worsening sectarian violence and abuses by security forces, specifically in Jos, a central Nigerian city, last November (see report and photo slideshow here).
The group has urged a probe and prosecution of security forces they allege killed at least 130 young men, mostly Muslim, in a crackdown following an outbreak of violence between Christians and Muslims on November 28 that left hundreds dead. It says such unrest is rooted in discrimination and inequality.
"At least 130 men were killed by members of the very institutions charged with protecting them," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These investigative bodies owe it to the victims and their families to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into these extremely serious allegations."