Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 18:28 UK

Nigeria riot city 'under control'

Police officers outside Maiduguri 29/07
Corpses still litter the streets in Maiduguri

The Nigerian city at the centre of days of deadly violence has been regained by security forces, witnesses say, after a militant Islamic sect was routed.

Troops stormed the sect's stronghold overnight, killing many of the militants and forcing others to flee.

Residents say the city is calm, but the streets are littered with corpses and thousands of people are homeless.

The sect, known as Boko Haram, wants to overthrow the government and impose an extreme version of Islamic law.

The group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, is thought to have escaped the assault on his stronghold along with several hundred of his followers.

In a news conference on Thursday the police released further details of Mr Yusuf and his group.


They revealed he was a 39-year-old preacher from Yobe state and described him as a motivational character who had four wives and 12 children.

The police said the group had been founded in the mid-1990s and several of its leading figures had been arrested and released at various points over the years.

Colonel Mohammed Yerima said the operation to catch Mr Yusuf was already well under way.

"We have his picture, we have his details and the long arm of the law will catch up with him," he said.

The army and police face allegations from rights groups and witnesses that they used excessive force in flushing out the militants, but Col Yerima denied this.

He said the militants had used AK47s, bombs and rocket-launchers and the military had replied with the "barest minimum force".

He also reiterated the security forces' position that civilians were not put at risk.

Stronghold assault

The Red Cross said about 3,500 people had fled the fighting and were being housed in their camp. Some 200 were injured in the fighting.

An official with the charity, Malam Aliyu Maikano, said the government should help out.

"The situation is calm even though dead bodies are littered everywhere. We advise the state government to evacuate the dead bodies," he told the BBC.

The fighting began on Sunday night in Bauchi state and spread to Maiduguri the next night.

Crowds of militants tried to storm government buildings and the city's police headquarters, but dozens of them were shot dead by security forces.

Over the next few nights gun battles raged between the militants and police and army, culminating in the assault on the militant's stronghold on Wednesday night.

Witnesses described seeing about 100 bodies strewn around the complex, and said a mosque used by the militants had been shelled into the ground.

It is thought more than 300 people have died in the violence - some estimates say 600, although there has not yet been official confirmation.

Sharia law is in place across northern Nigeria, but there is no history of al-Qaeda-linked violence.

The country's 150 million people are split almost equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.

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