Nigeria: Muslim Massacres of Christians
by FSM: GLOBAL ISLAMISM WATCH, THE EDITOR
December 29, 2010
Jos is the capital city of Plateau state. Nigeria. Jos lies in a spit of land that juts up between the states of Bauchi and Kaduna, which were among 12 states which have passed Sharia law since 1999. A century of tin mining has brought migrants to the region, and unlike other states in the north of Nigeria, Muslims are not a fixed majority. There are several Christians in the region, and these have been the subject of Muslim violence and also have engaged in conflict with Muslims. In 2001, Muslim-Christian violence in Jos that commenced on September 7 led to the deaths of at least a thousand people. In 2008, in two days (November 28 and 29) 381 people were killed in further Muslim-Christian conflict in Jos. The latter incident was tied to electoral disputes. In two outbreaks of Muslim on Christian violence in January and March of 2010, hundreds more were killed.
On Christmas Eve, churches and public spaces in Jos were bombed and a total of 38 people were killed. There were at least three bomb attacks. Subsequent fighting broke out and the death toll is now said to have reached at least 86 people. A group calling itself “Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad” has claimed responsibility for the blasts.
This group – a front group for the terror organization known as “Boko Haram” issued its message of responsibility on Monday (Dec. 27) on an Islamist website (mansoorah.net, which has currently been suspended by the Nigerian authorities). The message also referred to violence that had taken place around Maiduguri, capital of Borno state in the northeast of Nigeria. According to Reuters, the Boko Haram group has previously used this particular name to describe itself.
In Maiduguri, which had previously seen violence enacted against police and civilians by the Boko Haram group, churches and Christian worshippers were also attacked on Christmas Eve. Five worshippers were killed at Victory Baptist Church in Dala Alemderi, and the pastor, Rev. Bulus Marwa, was also killed. The church was set on fire. At the Church of Christ in Nigeria church in Sinimari, Maiduguri, a sixty-year old security guard named as Philip Sopso was killed by Boko Haram Islamists. A survivor of the attack at the Victory Baptist Church said:
“They hacked the two choir members using knives and petrol bomb before heading to the pastor’s residence, where he was killed.”
The internet message claimed that the attacks in Jos and Maiduguri were a response to “atrocities committed against Muslims in the city [of Jos] and the country in general.” It also claimed that the group was under the leadership of men named as Abu Muhammad and Abubakar bin Muhammad Shekau. The internet message said that Muslims are religiously obliged to fight non-Muslims:
“A statement regarding Jos and Borno attacks.
In the name of Allah the mighty Who has power over everything, Who made fighting the disbelievers an obligation until justice is established on earth.
"May peace and blessings continue to be upon the last messenger who wage (sic) jihad, the best of it.
"O Nations of the World, be informed that verily the attacks in Suldaniyya (Jos) and Borno on the eve of Christmas was carried out by us, Jama'atu ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'awati wal Jihad, under the leadership of Abu Muhammad, Abubakar bin Muhammad Shekau (May Allah preserve him), to start avenging the atrocities committed against Muslims in those areas, and the country in general. Therefore we will continue with our attacks on disbelievers and their allies and all those who help them, until Allah’s deen triumph by His Grace and Will.
"O Muslims! Do not forget that Allah has enjoined us to make provisions for fighting the disbelievers, and for that we are reminding you that the disbelievers of the world are fighting Islam and Muslims. So you must stand and strive to protect your religion and life.
"With Peace Jama'atu ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'awati wal Jihad is waging Jihad in the country called Nigeria."
The statement by Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad/Boko Haram has been condemned by Muslim leaders in the state. Some people, such as the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, have blamed politics and politicians for the outbreak of the violence. There will be an election in April. The two spiritual leaders made a joint statement to the press in Lagos in the south of the country yesterday. The BBC reports:
Mr Oritsejafor said some politicians "know the weaknesses of the people".
"They know how to manipulate their beliefs and they know the... parts of the country where people react very easily," he said.
"Some of them are creating these kind of problems to make Nigeria ungovernable."
The sultan accused politicians of a "failure of leadership".
"If the government in that area is... purposeful enough... they will find answers to these problems," he said.
According to a local official in Plateau State, three men were arrested on Christmas Day with bomb equipment, suggesting that these were responsible for the Christmas Eve attacks. Gyang Choji said: “They were heading to bomb a church when they were arrested.”
Yesterday (Tuesday Dec. 28) two policemen were killed in two separate attacks in the Zinnari and Bulunkutu neighborhoods of Maiduguri. The police officers were shot, apparently by Boko Haram members.
Boko Haram Background
We wrote on December 1 that between July and November of this year, about 50 people had been killed in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram members, with many of the killings happening in Maiduguri. In July 2009, an outbreak of violence had broken out between Boko Haram members and the police in Bauchi. The following was written on Family Security Matters at the time:
Nigeria's Sharia legislation … was introduced by a Christian, President Olusegun Obasanjo of the Yoruba tribe. Obasanjo became the first democratically elected President of Nigeria since military dictatorships took control of Nigeria in December 1983. Obasanjo ignored Chapter One, Section 10, of the country's constitution, which decrees that law in Nigeria should be secular: "The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion."
The Nigerian Taliban
The anti-Christian violence that had erupted with the arrival of Sharia law led to the rise of fanatical Islamists who have been called variously the Nigerian Muhajidin and also the Nigerian "Taliban." Though more of a movement than a specific group, the Nigerian "Taliban" emerged at the end of 2003, when attacks happened in Kanama in Yobe State, under the leadership of an individual who called himself Aminu Tashen-Ilimi. For a brief period, Kanama was under the control of the Islamists, who then numbered around 200. The village had been invaded on December 24, 2003, and 30 villagers were kidnapped at gunpoint by the Islamists, forced to dig defensive trenches and forced to pray with their Islamist captors. On December 31, 2003, the rebels wrote the word "Taliban" upon a captured vehicle and left the village to seek out new targets.
Tashen-Ilimi (not, apparently, his real name) led his mujahideen in attacks upon police stations in Borno state and also in Damaturu, capital of Yobe state. This first insurgency was met with resistance from the army and police, and by January 2004, the Taliban appeared to have been defeated. Within months, police stations were being attacked again in Borno and Yobe.
In September 2004, between 40 and 60 members of the Nigerian Taliban had attacked a police patrol near Gwoza (Gworza), close to the border with Cameroon. Twenty-eight mujahideen were killed in subsequent fighting. The attacks upon police stations appear to have had a twofold purpose – to procure arms and ammunition, but also to show contempt for those who upheld law and order. For the Nigerian Jihadis, takfiri ideology means that Muslims who do not support their strict interpretation of Islam are seen as apostates and do not deserve to live.
In January 2006, Aminu Tashen-Ilimi had been promising a "comeback." He said: "Allah, the almighty Lord, has authorized every Muslim to fight and establish an Islamic government over the world. One day it will happen in Nigeria and everywhere."
Tashen-Alimi described his mission: "When I repented and discovered the true faith, understood the true words of Allah, I left everything behind: my family, my job, and migrated. I'm ready to take up arms. I don't know who gave us the name Taliban, I prefer 'mujahideen’ – the fighters. I only know the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I respect them and what they did very much. Those who fought in Kanama and Gwoza are only Muslims who performed their holy duty."
The current conflict is said to be the work of a group calling itself "Boko Haram" – which roughly translates as "Western education forbidden." The ideologue of this group is a preacher who is called Mohammed Yusuf. He lives in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
The BBC states that Yusuf vowed to attack the police following the killing of mourners at a funeral in June.
"Boko Haram" as a group may not be the main participants in the current insurgency. Like the Nigerian Taliban, it may not even be a specific group; more a collection of disparate groups whose shared values have coalesced to form an Islamist movement. The attitudes of Mohammed Yusuf reflect the same ideology as the Islamists who campaigned for the introduction of Sharia law as much as the attitudes of those who have carried out indiscriminate slaughter.
Mohammed Yusuf condemns "Western education." He has condemned the University of Maiduguri for promoting "Western" education. In early 2003, similar values were being expressed by a senior religious figure, but his target was Western medicine, rather than education.
Ibrahim Datti Ahmed (born in 1937) was an influential preacher who claimed to be a physician. He was president of the Supreme Council of Sharia Law in Nigeria (SCSN). This body had been behind the introduction of Sharia law into the 12 northern states, and advised Islamic judges on issues of jurisprudence. It officially regulated the punishments but had no respect for the rule of law, least of all Section 10 of the nation's constitution. In 2002, SCSN claimed it had introduced Sharia law into Oyo state in the south. Representatives of this group had introduced themselves at a mosque in Ibadan, claiming to be there to supervise Sharia rulings. The state of Oyo never recognized the authority of the Supreme Council of Sharia Law.
In August 2001 Ibrahim Datti Datti Ahmed, speaking on behalf of the Supreme Council of Sharia Law, publicly said that the SCSN would avenge the killing of northerners in clashes which had taken place in southern states. In October 2001, in the northern city of Kano, hundreds of people were killed by Muslim rioters, apparently inspired by Datti Ahmed. Most of the victims were either southern Nigerians or Christians. Datti Ahmed is a fundamentalist who complained in 2002 that apart from the states of Sokoto, Niger and Zamfara, the northern states which had introduced Sharia were not committed enough to its rigid implementation.
In 2003, Ibrahim Datti Ahmed had deliberately sabotaged the Nigerian operations of the World Health Organization's strategy to rid the world of polio. He had claimed that there were "documents" that showed that the United States had since 1975 been implementing a campaign to reduce the populations of Muslims and Africans. He claimed that hormones had been added to tetanus vaccines, and suggested that polio vaccines were similarly designed to make Nigerians sterile.
Ahmed had said: "The council (SCSN) harbors strong reservations on the safety of our population not least because of our recent experience in the Pfizer scandal, when our people were used as guinea pigs with the approval of the federal ministry of health and the approval of all the relevant UN agencies." His unsubstantiated claims that the polio vaccines were designed to make recipients sterile led to the suspension of the polio campaign. Soon, Muslim clerics in India followed Datti Ahmed's lead and poliomyelitis, a disease that could have been eradicated, had not only shown no signs of disappearing, but it had returned to countries from which it had been eradicated (Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Angola, Mali, Cameroon, Chad and Eritrea). In 2007 a Pakistani cleric, following Ahmed's position, sabotaged local polio vaccination campaigns.
In 2004 after the Nigerian "Taliban" under the leadership of Aminu Tashen-Ilimi had rampaged and killed policemen in their first, highly publicized insurgency, Ibrahim Datti Ahmad refuused to condemn the Jihadists. He said of the rebels: "These are very sophisticated youth. They are not just the trash that is in government. I can understand why they did it. I'm not in a position to say whether I support it or not, but they must have their reasons."
Ibrahim Datti Ahmad still leads the Supreme Council of Sharia Law. He still appears to support acts of terrorism carried out by Islamists.
The city of Jos in Plateau state was subjected to violence between Muslims and Christians in November 2008. This violence followed the controversial results of a local election, and at least 400 people were killed. Thousands were forced to abandon their homes. Jonah Jang, the governor of Jos, called a curfew which appeared to stop the violence. In January 2009, Ibrahim Datti Ahmed urged Muslims to boycott the investigation which was launched by Governor Jang to ascertain what had triggered the attacks.
The "Boko Hamam" group may be a new, more coordinated faction of Islamists, but the situation in northern Nigeria has been created by politicians and by fanatical Muslim clerics. Mohammed Yusuf is now being named as the current "instigator" of the recent violence, but the Supreme Council of Sharia Law has been equally responsible for fomenting resentments and tensions between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria.
With tensions ratcheted up by Islamist ideologues, all it takes is a small external trigger for the violence to erupt. In February 2006, after the Danish cartoon affair, the city of Maiduguri in Borno State (home of Mohammed Yusuf) saw Muslims attacking Christians. Eleven churches were attacked, and 16 people were killed. One victim was "necklaced," having a gasoline-soaked tire placed around his neck and then set alight. The number of Maiduguri churches destroyed could have been as high as 15.
In November 2002, the annual Miss World competition was due to be staged in Nigeria. On Saturday November 16th, a newspaper columnist, Isioma Daniel, published an article in the Lagos-based daily This Day. In this, she wrote of the beauty contest: "What would Muhammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them." As a result, riots broke out. In Kaduna in the north of Nigeria, Muslims attacked Christians and churches. Local mosques were used to incite the violence. The violence spread to Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, where the Abuja mosque was the source of much of the incitement.
In Kaduna, after three days of violence, more than 250 people died, and several churches were totally destroyed (pictured). Frequently, accusations of blasphemy are used by Islamists to attack Christians in northern Nigeria. Lynchings of "blasphemers" in northern states are common. In March 2007 in the northeastern state of Gombe, Muslim pupils killed their Christian teacher, claiming she had "desecrated" a Koran.
Usman dan Fodio and the Sokoto Caliphate
The current violence in Nigeria has its roots – like most Islamist violence – in a desire to go back in history, rather than to move forward. Where many Islamists in the West and in the Indian subcontinent wish to revive the Ottoman Caliphate (which was officially disbanded on March 3, 1924), the Islamists of northern Nigeria have a desire to revive the empire created by Usman dan Fodio (Ousmane dan Fodio).
Fodio was born in Gobir in 1754 in what was formerly called Hausaland, named after the Hausa-speaking peoples of the north. Between 1804 and 1808, he waged armed Jihad (the Fulani War) against the local rulers, accumulating all the territories that are under Sharia law in the modern day, as well as several more. In 1809, these territories were called the Sokoto Caliphate, and Ussman dan Fodio was its "Caliph," a religious and political leader. The Caliphate was the largest African empire since the 16th century. After Fodio's death in 1817, the Caliphate was ruled by his son, Mohammed Bello, along with Fodio's brother.
The Sokoto Caliphate collapsed in 1903 when both Kano and Sokoto, its main cities, were sacked by colonialists.
The Islamists who are attacking police stations and capturing weapons, and the Muslim clerics who urge the uncompromising imposition of Sharia, are working toward the same end. Inspired by the glories of the past, as represented by Usman dan Fodio, they are seeking to reject wholesale the fragile democracy of Nigeria. They look to the past, and have no desire to live in a pluralist or a secular society. They want to recreate the Sokoto Calipate.
There have been other Islamists who have tried to recreate this Caliphate. One movement was called the Maitatsine Sect, after its founder, the Cameroon-born Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine. He established a cult in Kano state, northern Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s. He denounced modern items such as bicycles and watches. He arrogantly saw himself as a Muslim prophet, which placed him as a heretic but he gained a wide following. He led an insurrection in Kano in December 1980. Maitatsine was killed. In October 1982, his followers rioted in Mauduguri and then spread to Borno state.
The Maitatsine Sect's overt insurrections seem to have inspired the current Islamists of northern Nigeria. The rioting took place in the same locations as the current unrest, continuing until 1985. In 1987 other Islamists, probably inspired by the Maitatsine Sect, led attacks upon Christians in Kaduna state, where 150 churches were burned over a period of just over a week. In October 2006, one leading Muslim cleric from the Maitatsine Sect was sentenced to be hanged. 51-year-old Musa Ali Suleiman was found guilty on three counts of "murder, conspiracy and incitement of public disturbance."
The recent violence that is happening in northern Nigeria is only the latest chapter in a conflict that has done nothing to recreate former glories. More conflicts will follow. "Boko Haram" is just one small platoon in a disorganized army fighting a war that can never be fully won. Though history provides lessons, it is impossible to go back to the past. Islamists in Nigeria and elsewhere seem unable to comprehend that basic lesson.
The federal authorities in Nigeria have apparently turned a blind eye to acts of terrorism. On January 16, 2007, a 50-year old Muslim cleric and director of a media group (Media Trust, which publishes various newspapers) was indicted by a federal court in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. The man’s name is Alhaji Mohammed Bello (Ilyas) Damagun. He was charged with transferring $300,000 from Al-Qaeda, from Sudan, and depositing it in an account (Number 21067695) in the London bank Habibson’s, for use in acts of terrorism. According to the charge-sheet, the money was transferred at the end of 2002, and at the time, Damagun was a member of the Nigerian Taliban. He was also indicted for facilitating 17 individuals to undergo terror training under the guidance of operatives from the Mauritanian Qurah Islamic Camp.
Damagun was also accused of giving sums of money and also a small bus and loudspeakers to Muhammad Yusuf, for the spreading of extremism. This took place in September and October of 2006. In the indictment, Muhammad Yusuf was named as an operative of the “Nigerian Taliban.” Yusuf (pictured below) would later become notorious as the head of Boko Haram’s ground operations.
The judge at Damagun’s arraignment was persuaded by the publisher’s lawyer that Damagun would not flee, and that he had not fully prepared his case. The judge, Justice Binta Murtala Nyako, allowed Damagun to be granted bail. It is now nearly four years since the charges were laid, and yet there is no news available. There has been no follow-up trial, there has been no official acquittal, and the newspapers produced by Damagun’s company, such as the Daily Trust, continue to operate. Such slipshod treatment of a case that should be treated with urgency is evidence of the corruption that permeates so many layers of Nigerian society.
Ironically, much of the information available about the background of Muhammad Yusuf and the formation of Boko Haram comes from a Sunday edition of the Daily Trust, owned by Damagun’s Media Trust. The article dates from August 2, 2009. It describes Muhammad Yusuf as being a preacher who teamed up with people who dropped out of Maidiguri University in 2002. These included Aminu Tashen-Ilimi. These had known Muhammad Yusuf as a preacher (malam) for some time, at least from the time when he had been expelled from giving sermons at the Indimi mosque in Maiduguri in 2000.
In 2002, Yusuf set up a compound in the Anguwan Doki neighbourhood of Maiduguri. Here he set up a madrassa and training center. In October 2003 Aminu Tashen-Ilimi and others had left the compound, complaining that Yusuf was too “liberal.”
The dissidents went to Yobe state and set up their own enclave, calling it “Afghanistan.” They were based in the village of Kanama, which borders onto the nation of Niger. It was here that the name “Nigerian Taliban” took root. In 2004, the dissidents led by Aminu Tashen-Ilimi attacked two police stations in Yobe state, seizing ammunition. The state authorities retaliated and killed many and arrested around fifty. Some fled to Cameroon. In 2007, the group made its presence known again through attacks. During this time, Muhammad Yusuf was questioned by authorities, but he had maintained his compound, which was apparently owned by his father-in-law.
In January 2006, despite failing to engender a revolution, Aminu Tashen-Ilimi told interviewers from Agence France-Presse:
“Allah, the almighty Lord, has authorised every Muslim to fight to establish an Islamic government over the world. One day it will happen in Nigeria and everywhere.”
After an abortive attack on Gwoza on the border with Cameroon, in which 28 of Aminu Tashen-Ilimi’s mujahideen were killed, many fled to Borno state. A sympathizer said in January 2006: “Those who survived hid in Maiduguri or fled abroad. They are coming back one by one, but are hiding, under pressure from the security services. Tashen-Ilimi is one of the commanders.”
Immediately after the insurrection of July 26, 2009, the authorities in Borno State responded with violence and extra-judicial killings. In Yobe state, 43 people who were said to be militants were killed as they fled into a forested area. Such responses may satisfy a basic urge, but never serve to end insurrections. In Maiduguri, the compound that was run by the allegedly “liberal” Muhammad Yusuf was bombed by the army and reduced to rubble. Aminu Tashen-Ilimi was in the compound when it was being attacked. At least fifty people were killed in the compound, and fifty more lay dead outside.
Muhammad Yusuf was arrested and held in a police cell, with his hands cuffed, with his left arm bandaged. The police allowed him to be interviewed by journalists, who captured images of him on their mobile phones. When asked questions, Yusuf answered in a soft voice, showing no signs of being the vicious terrorist that he was portrayed in the Nigerian and international media. Hours after he was subjected to the media circus, he was murdered by police. His body was mutilated, and one of his hands was nearly severed. Police claimed that he had fought them and tried to escape, but the video below shows that his corpse still had handcuffs in place.
News of Yusuf’s death was released to the media on July 31, 2009. After Muhammad Yusuf was summarily executed, without a trial that could have provided information, a man said to have been his financier, Alhaj Buji Foi (Buji Fai), was paraded in front of cameras, again handcuffed and with his shirt removed.
Foi was formerly the Commissioner for Water Resources and Chieftaincy Affairs and two-time Chairman of Kaga Council in Borno State. The governor of Borno, Modu Ali Sheriff, claimed that he had not seen Foi in two years, since the Islamist had resigned. Foi had declared in 2007 that it was “haram” to receive money from the state, as it was corrupted by the West. Some rumors abounded that Sheriff had ordered soldiers from “Operation Flush” the paramilitary operation to combat Boko Haram, to kill Foi. Sheriff denied this, but justice would have been served, and terror financing networks may have been exposed, if both Foi and Muhammad Yusuf had been taken to trial. On the day after Muhammad Yusuf was murdered, Foi was similarly shot dead (video below).
The state commissioner of police, Christopher Dega, claimed that Foi was killed in a shoot-out with police, which never happened. In the video, Foi appears to be praying before he falls.
The uprising of July 2009 led to numerous arrests, but as J. Peter Pham reported here, in September 2010, a police jail in Bauchi state was broken into and more than a hundred Boko Haram members were freed. Some were recaptured, but others escaped.
The summary executions of Muhammad Yusuf and Buji Foi have probably protected the identities of individuals involved in funding and manipulating the uprisings. Though this is only a personal opinion, I am convinced that some of those people have influential posts in the bizarre and unconstitutional “sharia states.” Nigeria did not see sectarian violence of this scale for more than three decades before sharia law was illegally introduced. In the mid-1960s, Igbo separatists in Biafra, led by General Gowan, were at war with a mainly Yoruba establishment. That dispute was about oil and territory, and not about religion. Since sharia was introduced, religious sectarianism has seen horrific examples of barbarism and intolerance.
The weakness of Nigeria’s federal government has been increasing and though Boko Haram acts as a Taliban-style group, it has been allowed to flourish in some areas. The north of Nigeria, mostly peopled by Hausa and Fulani tribes, is in a state of chaos. Boko Haram may be small in number, but its ideals are shared by many officials in the states that chose to adopt Sharia law. Sooner or later, Nigeria must decide if it can continue as one nation, or whether it will split in two.