Nigeria: Relative of slain sect leader killed

AP News
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Posted: Sep 17, 2011 1:55 PM
Nigeria: Relative of slain sect leader killed

A relative of the slain leader of a radical Muslim sect in Nigeria was shot dead Saturday, only two days after taking part in peace talks led by a former president, police said.

Babakura Fugu's killing comes as Nigeria's weak central government struggles to stop attacks carried out by the feared Boko Haram sect. The group claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 car bombing of the United Nations headquarters that killed 23 people.

His death also raises concerns about who controls the sect, which has reported links to two other al-Qaida-affiliated terror groups in Africa, and whether its fighters want to negotiate an end to their increasingly bloody sectarian attacks.

Boko Haram later claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to the BBC's Hausa language radio service, a trusted source of news throughout Nigeria's Muslim north. The claim could not immediately be independently verified.

A lone gunman approached Fugu near his home Saturday close to the site of Boko Haram's former main mosque in Maiduguri, a city in the far reaches of northeast Nigeria approaching the Sahara Desert.

The gunman pulled a Kalashnikov rifle from inside the folds of his traditional robes and shot Fugu to death, Borno state police commissioner Simeone Midenda said.

No one else was wounded in the attack and the gunman apparently walked away, Midenda said. The commissioner said no arrests have been made in the attack.

Fugu is a relative of the late Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police custody following a 2009 sect riot and security crackdown that left 700 people dead. Fugu and other family members had spoken with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Thursday in a fledgling peace effort to stop the sect's attacks.

Speaking Friday to the AP in Maiduguri, Fugu said the meeting with Obasanjo raised their "confidence by 100 percent." Fugu said the former president promised to brief current President Goodluck Jonathan about the talks.

Family members asked Obasanjo to have their destroyed homes rebuilt, to receive a promised court settlement of $6,600 from the government, Fugu said. They also asked that officials compensate other sect members who lost relatives in the 2009 security crackdown.

It remains unclear who is actually leading Boko Haram since Yusuf's death. Analysts and diplomats have said they believe the sect is split into at least three subgroups, each with its own loose command-and-control structure. Fugu's killing Saturday and the quick claim of responsibility by Boko Haram appears to indicate that either Yusuf's family had no direct control of the group or that they upset sect commanders by negotiating.

The killing also suggests Nigeria's government won't be able to find a political solution to end Boko Haram's violence, which has included targeted assassinations and bombings. The group's U.N. suicide bombing that wounded 116 people also shows it expanded its targets to include foreigners.

Last month, the commander for U.S. military operations in Africa told the AP that Boko Haram may be trying to coordinate attacks with al-Shabab of Somalia and north African group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The sect's members scattered after the 2009 crackdown, with some now reportedly living in neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is split largely between a Christian south and a Muslim north. Unemployment and unceasing poverty, coming despite the nation making billions a year from oil production, have increased resentment in recent years in the north. Boko Haram, which wants the strict implementation of Shariah law in the country, tapped into that unrest.

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Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria. Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.

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Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP