Authorities say gun battle raging at Nigerian prison holding suspected Muslim extremists

By Shehu Saulawa, AP
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Nigeria: Gun battle at prison holding extremists

BAUCHI, Nigeria — Gunmen launched a massive attack Tuesday night against a northern Nigerian prison holding suspected members of a radical Muslim sect, authorities said.

The attack on the federal prison near Bauchi appeared to be an effort to break into the facility, which is holding members of the Boko Haram sect, said Maigari Kana, a spokesman for the state governor. However, Kana said he did not know who was responsible for the attack, which had gunfire echoing through nearby pastures and hills in the rural state.

The Bauchi state police commissioner said police planned to dispatch more officers to the area, but declined to comment further.

Adamu Abubakar, a Red Cross official, said heavy gunfire could be heard throughout the city.

“Definitely now, I’m not going anywhere,” Abubakar told The Associated Press by telephone. “The situation is not safe.”

Boko Haram — which means “Western education is sacrilege” in Hausa — has campaigned for the implementation of strict Shariah law. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim-held north. A dozen states across Nigeria’s north already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

Boko Haram sect members rioted and attacked police stations and private homes in July 2009, triggering a violent police crackdown. Many of those arrested in the wake of the attacks last year are being held in the Bauchi prison pending trial.

In recent months, rumors about the group rearming have spread throughout northern Nigeria. A video recording released in late June showed a Boko Haram leader calling for new violence as the one-year anniversary of their attack neared. Meanwhile, police believe motorcycle-riding members of the sect are killing policemen in the region.

Associated Press Writers Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria, and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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