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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 06:42 GMT
Tracking down Nigeria's 'Taleban' sect
By Anna Borzello
BBC, Kannama, Yobe State, north-eastern Nigeria

Kannama is a quiet village with sandy streets - at the end of a bumpy three hour car journey along a dirt track.

Burnt house of the district head in Yobe State
Homes of local officials were burnt in the attacks
It is hard to believe that on New Years Eve, this place - close to the border with Niger - was the site of an attack by an Islamic sect.

The group - which the authorities believe is part of the world-wide movement, Ahlul Sunna WalJama, is also known locally as the Taleban - because of its admiration for the former administration in Afghanistan.

The group, who were camped in the thorny bush two kilometres outside Kannama, attacked the village, destroyed government buildings and killed a policemen.

Over the next few days they went on to attack three more police posts across the district.

"I think they were only interested in attacking the authorities. That's why they didn't harm the local people," said Kannama district official Al Haji Umar Goni.


However, the sect members did abduct 30 men in Kannama - who were forced to carry looted property back to the camp.

"They tried to convince me to join their movement. They said we would pray together and get to paradise together," said Mohammad Ado, a farmer, who was held for four days.

"They said their wanted to establish a new system of Sharia law, different from the one practised now".

Sharia - or Islamic law - is practised in 12 Nigerian states including Yobe, but it is not implemented fully.

Another 16 year-old abductee was forced to help build a deep defensive trench around the camp.


No-one in Kannama - which is nearly entirely Muslim - fully understands recent events largely because the sect kept to themselves.

Two people sit at the entrance of a burnt out police station
The 'Taleban' also torched police stations and stole weapons
However, they had earlier been based about 30 kilometres south of Kannama where they were known for touring villages and preaching Islam.

It's not clear why the group turned violent.

Local officials say until they attacked the police posts - and stole weapons - they didn't even have guns.

"I don't know the major reason why we attacked the police posts. Maybe it is because the police is the protector of the people in Nigeria - But I was not told actually," said Ismael Abdu Afatahi, a 21-year-old student from the commercial capital Lagos, who was recruited into the sect last March.

He is now being held by police, after trying to escape across the border into neighbouring Niger.

However, there are suggestions that the violence could have been sparked by attempts in December by local officials to persuade the sect to move away.


The Kannama camp - which only had makeshift tents - was destroyed earlier this month in an army raid.

Car burnt during clashes
This vehicle was allegedly full of weapons
According to the security forces, all but seven of the estimated 60 known members have been killed or captured.

The prisoners include two women and a four-year-old child currently being treated in hospital.

Last weekend the government launched a Joint Commission - made up of police, military and state security - to try and establish just who the group are, what they want - and whether they had any foreign links.

The police say that at least one of the group leaders had been in Afghanistan, training with the Taleban, while another is currently in Saudi Arabia, after falling sick while attending the Muslim Hajj, or pilgrimage.

The state authorities insist the group is no longer a threat - and life has returned back to normal in the region.

However a small number of soldiers - with armoured personnel carriers - are still deployed in Kannama and would not allow journalists to visit the site of the camp.


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