Residents flee Nigerian city hit by sect attacks

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2011 8:19 AM
Residents flee Nigerian city hit by sect attacks

By Ibrahim Mschelizza

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Thousands fled the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Tuesday and the local university was shut after a week of intensified clashes between an Islamist sect and military forces.

The Boko Haram sect, which says it wants a wider application of sharia Islamic law across Africa's most populous nation, has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and attacks with homemade explosives on churches and drinking places in recent months.

Most of the attacks have been around Maiduguri, a city in one of the poorest regions in Nigeria. More than 150 people have been killed this year in the city of more than 1.2 million people.

The army said 11 members of Boko Haram were killed and two soldiers wounded on Saturday night as the military stepped up efforts to curb the violence.

"We are going to Kano where my late husband who was killed by soldiers last Saturday comes from," Aishatu Musa, a housewife with five children, told Reuters. She joined thousands of others boarding trucks to exit the city, witnesses said.

Authorities banned motorbikes in Maiduguri last week, which have been used by attackers for bombings and shootings. But the motorbikes are also an important means of transport for local traders, who play a key role in the local economy.

The University of Maiduguri was closed on Monday.

"After an emergency meeting of the university senate, it was decided that lectures be suspended in view of the prevailing security situation until further notice," a university statement said, adding, "All students have been directed to vacate hostels."

Bomb blasts in the north have replaced militant attacks on oil facilities hundreds of kilometers (miles) away in the southern Niger Delta as the main security threat in Nigeria. The United States and European Union have condemned the violence.

President Goodluck Jonathan, sworn in for his first full term in late May, has voiced support for dialogue, but the Boko Haram group has said it will only negotiate if demands including the resignation of the Borno state government are met.

Boko Haram strikes have spread farther afield in recent months, including a bomb in the car park of national police headquarters in the capital, Abuja, last month.

(Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Peter Cooney)