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Top Islamist sect member dies; prison break frees 40 in Nigeria

- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2012

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — A top radical Islamist sect member blamed for a deadly Christmas Day church bombing in Nigeria has been killed by security forces, said the sect, which demonstrated in a prison break Sunday that his death has not affected its ability to keep fighting.

A statement attributed to the Boko Haram sect and obtained Sunday by the Associated Press said the group is happy about Habibu Bama's "martyrdom."

Bama, a former soldier, died after sustaining injuries from a gun battle between security forces and the sect in the northeastern city of Damaturu earlier this week, Nigeria's State Security Service said.

The battle occurred from Monday to Tuesday as authorities fought back against the sect, which struck six churches, five primary schools, a police station and a police outpost, authorities said.

Bama was wanted in connection with the Dec. 25 bombing of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, just outside of the capital, Abuja, in which at least 44 people were killed.

Officials also believe he was involved in a federal police headquarters bombing last June and the United Nations headquarters suicide car bombing in Abuja in August that killed 25 people.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for all three attacks last year. It is also held responsible for more than 620 deaths this year alone, according to an AP count.

The Nigerian government has failed to corral the growing sectarian violence, leading President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday to fire the West African nation's security adviser and defense minister.

Security forces in Damaturu still were reeling from days of sustained sect attacks when Boko Haram raided a police station early Sunday, freeing 40 suspected sect members, said Yobe state police Commissioner Patrick Egbuniwe.

He said one inmate was killed and a prison warden was wounded in the ensuing gun battle.

The sect has launched several prison breaks in the past.

A prison break in the central Nigerian town of Koton-Karifi in Kogi state freed 119 inmates in February. It mirrored a massive prison break in the northeastern city of Bauchi in September 2010 when Boko Haram freed about 700 inmates.

Nigeria's prisons remain overcrowded and understaffed, with the majority of those imprisoned waiting for years for trials that likely will never come. A 2007 study by Amnesty International called the system "appalling," with children remaining locked up with their parents and guards routinely bribed by inmates. Despite pledges by the government to reform the system, it remains largely the same today.

Bashir Adigun reported from Abuja.

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