Gunmen on motorcycle taxis killed an Islamic cleric Saturday in northern Nigeria who had been an outspoken critic of a radical Muslim sect blamed for a rash of recent shootings, a police commissioner said.
Authorities believe Sheikh Bashir Mustapha was slain by members of the sect called Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language.
The group is campaigning for the implementation of strict Shariah law, and officials believe members are behind a rash of killings committed by Kalashnikov-carrying men riding motorcycle taxis.
Commissioner Ibrahim Abdu said the killing of a renowned Islamic cleric, however, takes on "a different dimension." He said six armed suspects on motorcycle taxis stormed the cleric's home around 10 a.m. Saturday and also killed his personal assistant.
Many of the recent killings have targeted those who testified against Boko Haram members in open court after a 2009 riot that sparked a security crackdown that left more than 700 people dead.
In recent months, rumors about the group rearming have spread throughout northern Nigeria, though its former leader died in police custody after the 2009 riot in what human rights activists described as an extrajudicial killing. A video recording released in late June showed a Boko Haram leader calling for new violence as the one-year anniversary of their attack neared.
In September, the sect launched a coordinated attack on a federal prison in Bauchi that held many of its followers arrested following last year's riot. The raid freed about 750 prisoners _ many of whom were members of the sect that still remain at large.
Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim north. A dozen states across Nigeria's north already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.