Nigeria: Boko Haram's deadly attacks show Islamists' growing reach

Nigeria's Boko Haram militants launched bombings and gun attacks that killed scores on Friday. On Sunday, they killed a police inspector, according to reports.

Nigerian Television Authority/AP
In this image made from television released by the state-run Nigerian Television Authority Sunday, a damaged building is seen in Damatura, Nigeria, following a series of coordinated attacks Friday that killed at least 69 people and left a new police headquarters in ruins, government offices burned and symbols of state power destroyed. A radical Muslim sect known locally as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks in Borno and Yobe states, with the worst damage done in and around the city of Damaturu.

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Nigeria's radical Islamist group Boko Haram killed a police inspector Sunday, continuing a wave of violence a little over a day after the militants killed more than 69 people in a string of bombings and gun attacks in northeastern Nigeria.

The attacks highlight the increasing reach and escalating violence of Boko Haram, whose aim is to spread strict Islamic law within Africa’s most populous country, and dampens hopes of a negotiated end to the violence.

In what may have been its deadliest day of attacks Friday, Boko Haram bombed police stations, churches, a bank, and an army base in and around Damaturu, the capital of the northeastern state of Yobe. Members of the group then engaged security forces in gunbattles that lasted for hours.

The Associated Press reports that Boko Haram members shot to death a police inspector Sunday in the group’s spiritual home, the city of Maiduguri. Gunmen stopped his car as he was driving to a mosque to pray on the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha, which began Sunday. Local police commander Simeon Medenda acknowledged that the police have not been able to stop the group. “Our men who live in the midst of the Boko Haram are not safe," he told the AP.  

Trail of destruction

The UN Security Council Saturday called Friday’s attacks “criminal and unjustifiable.” While AP reported that at least 69 people were killed in the Friday attacks, Agence France-Presse, reporting from Damaturu, reports that the death toll was at least 150, with 100 more people wounded.

Damaturu residents gathered for prayers marking the beginning of the Muslim feast amid high security Sunday, as the Boko Haram spokesman warned of more attacks, reports AFP.

The news agency says that police headquarters and a police anti-terrorism unit in Damaturu were hit by powerful bombs, and the police headquarters was destroyed. Boko Haram also bombed six churches.

A country divided

Nigeria is divided between a majority Muslim north and majority Christian south.

Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western education is sin,” began in 2002, largely drawing its support from disaffected, unemployed youth in a poor area in the north. Security forces cracked down on the group in 2009, killing as many as 700 people.

The Monitor reports that Boko Haram has escalated violent attacks recently, widening its scope and threatening to bomb universities and international targets and kill politicians and journalists.

Friday’s attacks came after the group bombed the UN headquarters in Nigeria in August, killing at least 23 people.

Deadliest attack yet?

According to an Associated Press list of major Boko Haram attacks since 2009, if the death toll from Friday reached above 80, it would be the deadliest attack for the group since then.

Nigerian security services have linked the group to Al Qaeda, though many consider the alleged ties dubious. The Monitor reports that the security forces’ brutal crackdown on the group may have pushed it to escalate the violence.

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo has attempted to mediate an end to the violence, but has been unable to do so. A relative of the group’s killed leader was killed just days after Mr. Obasanjo visited families of killed Boko Haram members in August. The Financial Times reports that advisers to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan are divided over whether to pursue negotiations or continue a security crackdown on the group.

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