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Toward a radical middle

a time for fear
Wednesday, February 25, 2004  
The Tiny Revolt

You may not of heard about a spasm of Islamist-instigated violence in Nigeria last December, but it happened.

About a year ago, a group of pro-Taliban radicals called Al-Sunna Wal Jamma (Followers of the Prophet) moved into Yobe, a Northeastern state that borders Niger. The group mostly comprised Nigerians (including the sons of many prominent Nigerian families) but also boasted recruits from Lagos and Niger. They set up camps outside the town of Kanamma and travelled into town to preach hardline doctrine to the Muslim population. Locals were outraged, however, when members of the outfit began to farm private land and fish on the banks of the Yobe river that were owned by eminent local families. When confronted over these incursions, they would answer: "Everything belongs to Allah."

Finally, in December, the governor of Yobe, Abba Ibrahim, decided to intervene. He implemented a plan to peacefully disperse the Al-Sunna Wal Jamma camps. In reply, the Islamists went beserk. To kick off, they attacked and raided a police station, killed two police officers, and torched the premises. Then they retreated en mass to a primary school, hoisted the flag of Afghanistan, and demanded a fight. The Nigerian army was sent in. After two weeks of violence, 18 people had been killed (mostly Islamists) and 200 Al-Sunna Wal Jamma members had been locked up.

This doomed uprising highlights religious tensions in Nigeria, a country split between its Christian South, Muslim North, and animist centre. 12 Northern States have so far adopted Shariah law. Ominously, Nigeria was pin-pointed by bin Laden (in a tape shown on al-Jazeera in 2002) as a future frontline for Jihad, alongside Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Nigeria is also Africa's largest oil producer and is being assiduously courted by Western oil companies. This strategic importance makes it increasingly vulnerable to Islamist attack.

In the meantime

10:47 PM

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