MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected members of a radical Muslim sect bombed another checkpoint Tuesday, authorities said, as Nigeria’s government launched a high-powered team that will seek a nonmilitary solution to the violence which has rocked the country’s northeast.
Assailants from the Boko Haram sect set off a bomb at about 7 a.m. in the city of Maiduguri but there were no casualties, said a Joint Military Taskforce spokesman, Lt. Col. Hassan Mohammed.
The taskforce, which includes policemen, soldiers and other security officers, was deployed in Maiduguri and surrounding areas about six weeks ago to put a stop to Boko Haram’s near-daily drive-by killings and bomb attacks. However, some groups have asked for their withdrawal after soldiers were accused of shooting and killing civilians caught in the fight against the Islamist sect.
Residents locked themselves indoors for more than two hours Tuesday because soldiers in search of the bomber started going door-to-door in Gomari ward, shooting in the air in front of people’s homes.
The government has defended the troops’ presence, promising to prosecute officers who commit crimes. But Tuesday’s inauguration of a high-profile committee in the capital city of Abuja signals a departure from its initial approach.
The seven-member team, which includes three ministers, is charged with monitoring the behavior of security officers, following the situation, proffering solutions to the crisis, and potentially engaging with the shadowy sect if leadership is identified.
“The members of the sect are our children and grandchildren,” said retired diplomat and team leader Usman Gaji Galtimari, who comes from the troubled area. “They should appreciate the fact that the government is not against them and the society is not at war with them.”
The committee will be the federal government’s first open attempt at reaching out to the sect sincePresident Goodluck Jonathan told journalists at the sidelines of a June meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York that his government was open to negotiations. His comments came a day after at least 10 people died in several blasts in Maiduguri and surrounding areas.
Instead of negotiations, however, what followed was a mass deployment of troops and a visit to Maiduguri by the national police chief, Inspector General Hafiz Ringim, who said the militants’ days were “numbered.” In a statement attributed to Boko Haram, the group claimed that Ringim’s comments motivated a June 16 attack that targeted the national police headquarters.
Boko Haram was thought to be vanquished in 2009 after Nigeria’s military crushed its mosque into concrete shards and its leader died in police custody. But now, Maiduguri and surrounding villages inBorno state again live in fear. Moreover, a series of May 29 blasts that left at least 18 dead across Nigeria’s north showed that the group has expanded its reach beyond its northeastern stronghold.
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