A Muslim sect suspected of a series of targeted killings and a massive prison break has issued new threats in northern Nigeria, this time invoking al-Qaida's north Africa branch.
Posters by the Boko Haram sect appeared at key intersections in the city of Maiduguri this week, bearing the name of Imam Abubakar Shekau, the group's de facto leader. The two top corners of the posters bore a symbol of an opened Quran, flanked on each side by Kalashnikov assault rifles and a flag in the middle _ mirroring the logo of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
The message warned the public against assisting the police or going near soldiers guarding the town at night. The message also acknowledged a recent reward offered for information leading to the arrest of suspected sect members.
"Any Muslim that goes against the establishment of Sharia (law) will be attacked and killed," the message read.
Boko Haram _ which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language _ has campaigned for the implementation of strict Shariah law. 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.
The poster said it was from Shekau on behalf of "The Group of the People of Sunnah, Call and Jihad."
Police officers began removing the signs late Wednesday.
"These publications and messages on Boko Haram activities are seditious and could jeopardize our investigations into the four-month serial attacks and killings in the state," Borno state police commissioner Mohammed Abubakar said Thursday.
Authorities did not immediately comment on the use of the logos on the posters. Though the al-Qaida branch has distributed messages by Boko Haram before, it is unclear whether the two groups have any operational links. The two groups also come from two different ethnic groups in northern Nigeria.
Boko Haram sect members rioted and attacked police stations and private homes in July 2009, sparking a violent police and military crackdown. In total, 700 people died.
The sect largely went underground after the attack, though rumors began to spread this summer that the group was rearming. In September, authorities say Boko Haram members engineered an attack on a federal prison in Bauchi that freed about 750 inmates _ including imprisoned sect followers.
Meanwhile, suspected sect members on motorcycle taxis have killed politicians, religious leaders and police officers in recent weeks in Maiduguri and nearby cities. The killings have continued, despite the federal government sending soldiers to secure checkpoints throughout the region at night.
Concern of the killings, as well as recent car bombings in Nigeria's capital that killed at least 12, let the U.S. State Department to issue a new travel warning. The warning issued Tuesday urged U.S. citizens to avoid "all but essential travel" to Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta and regions inflamed by religious violence in central and northern Nigeria.
"Travelers throughout the country should be aware that, in areas where such circumstances prevail, there is the potential for ethnic or religious-based disturbances," the statement said.
Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.