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Page last updated at 06:24 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 07:24 UK

Nigeria sect head dies in custody

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Mohammed Yusuf wanted to impose a strict version of Islamic law

The leader of an Islamic sect blamed for days of deadly violence in Nigeria has been killed in police custody, police officials have said.

Officials said Mohammed Yusuf was shot while trying to escape. They had announced his capture hours earlier.

Mr Yusuf led Boko Haram, which wants to overthrow the government and impose a strict version of Islamic law.

Hundreds of people have died in five days of clashes between his followers and security forces.

Mr Yusuf was held and later shot in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri.

A BBC reporter in the city was among journalists shown two films, one apparently showing Mr Yusuf making a confession; the other showing what appeared to be his body, riddled with bullets.

A Nigerian police officer points at a corpse in the northern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday
Militants led by Mr Yusuf have been blamed for days of deadly violence

"Mohammed Yusuf was killed by security forces in a shootout while trying to escape," the regional police assistant inspector-general, Moses Anegbode, told Nigerian television.

A spokesman for the state governor was also quoted as saying that Mr Yusuf had been trying to escape.

Troops had stormed Boko Haram's stronghold on Wednesday night, killing many of the militants and forcing others to flee.

Mr Yusuf was arrested earlier on Thursday, after reportedly being found hiding in a goat pen at his parents-in-law's house.

BBC News website Africa editor Joseph Winter says Nigeria's security forces have a terrible reputation for brutality and human rights groups accuse them of frequent extra-judicial killings.

'Gun battles'

Officials working for Human Rights Watch in Nigeria said there should be an immediate investigation into the killing, which they called "extrajudicial" and "illegal".

The violence began on Sunday night in Bauchi state, before spreading to other towns and cities in the northeast of the west African nation.

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

Several days of gun battles between militants and Nigerian security forces ensued, culminating in the assault on the militant's stronghold.

It is thought more than 300 people have died in the violence - some estimates say 600, although there has been no official confirmation.

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

Witnesses and human rights groups have accused the military of excessive violence in quelling the militants, but the army says it used a minimal amount of force.

Police say Mr Yusuf was a 39-year-old preacher from Yobe state, who had four wives and 12 children.

They described him as a motivational character.

His sect, Boko Haram, is against Western education. It believes Nigeria's government is being corrupted by Western ideas and wants to see Islamic law imposed across Nigeria.

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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