- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 1, 2009

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria | Five days of fighting between government forces and a radical Islamist sect left dirt roads soaked with blood, buildings scorched and dozens dead, including the group’s leader, but revenge attacks were feared even as the national police claimed victory.

Mohammed Yusuf, head of the Boko Haram sect, was killed Thursday after he was found hiding in a goat pen at the home of his in-laws. The circumstances grew murkier Friday.

Police said Mr. Yusuf was killed in a gunfight but a Nigerian army officer disputed that.

“He was arrested alive,” Col. Ben Ahonatu said Friday. “There was no shootout.”

Police, who invited local journalists to view Mr. Yusuf’s battered corpse Thursday evening, insisted he was fatally wounded in combat.

“Mohammed Yusuf … died in a gunbattle between armed sect members and a joint military-police force,” said Christopher Dega, police commissioner of Borno state, of which Maiduguri is the capital.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for investigations into Mr. Yusuf’s death and other killings during the upheaval in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria.

Emmanuel Ojukwu, spokesman of the national police, said Mr. Yusuf’s death spelled the end of his group, which espouses anti-Western views and had been gathering disciples for years.

“This group operates under a charismatic leader. They will no more have any inspiration,” Mr. Ojukwu said. “The leader who they thought was invincible and immortal has now been proved otherwise.”

But Charles Dokubo, analyst with the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, said he expects more trouble.

“The rebellion is more than an individual,” Mr. Dokubo said. “In as much as he was the leader, it does not mean this is over.”

Mr. Yusuf, 39, had managed to escape death on Wednesday along with some 300 followers as troops shelled his compound in the city of Maiduguri, killing about 100 people, including Mr. Yusuf’s deputy.

Mr. Yusuf’s death could provoke more violence, though the Boko Haram sect, sometimes called the Nigerian Taliban, is now likely in disarray.

Most Boko Haram members are young, poor and unemployed, although a few have come from highly educated and elite families. They share anger that the introduction of moderate Shariah law in 12 northern states 10 years ago has not stemmed corruption that keeps most Nigerians impoverished while only a few prosper from the country’s oil wealth.

Mr. Yusuf, a Western-educated member of the country’s elite, encouraged his followers to rid themselves of all material wealth, but was chauffeured in a Mercedes all-terrain vehicle and amassed dozens of vehicles at his compound. A university graduate, he discounted Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, claimed the world cannot be round because the Koran does not say that and credited Allah with creating rain.

In a wave of violence that began Sunday in Borno and quickly spread to three other northern states, Boko Haram - which means “Western education is sacrilege” - attacked police stations, churches and government buildings. The group is seeking the imposition of strict Islamic Shariah law in Nigeria, a multi-religious country.

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