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Page last updated at 20:17 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 21:17 UK

Nigeria row over militant killing

The BBC has seen the dead body of Mohammed Yusuf. WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Nigerian Islamic sect leader Mohammed Yusuf was alive when he was captured, the commander of the operation against the militant group has told the BBC.

The comments by Col Ben Ahanotu appear to contradict police statements that Mr Yusuf, 39, was killed in a shootout as he was being detained.

Human rights campaigners have alleged Mr Yusuf was executed by the police.

Mr Yusuf's Boko Haram group has been blamed for days of violent clashes with security forces in which hundreds died.

His bullet-riddled body was shown to journalists on Thursday just hours after police said they had captured him in the northern city of Maiduguri.

Col Ahanotu, the commander of the operation against the Boko Haram group, said he had personally captured Mr Yusuf and handed him over to the chief of police.

He said Mr Yusuf had been unarmed when caught, hiding in an empty building a short distance from his enclave, and that he gave himself up willingly.

"All I know is that in the attack, I was able to pick him up from his hide out and hand him over to police," he told the BBC.

"I asked him why he did what he has done and his response was that he would explain to me later."

Col Ahanotu said Mr Yusuf had a wound on his arm which had already been treated.

"But he was OK. As I got him alive, I handed him over to the authorities," he said.

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Officials visit Maiduguri to see the damage left by days of fighting

Nigeria's Information Minister Dora Akunyili told the BBC that how Mr Yusuf had died was "a big issue to the good people of this country because Nigeria believes in the rule of law, Nigeria believes in fundamental human rights being respected".

She said his death would be investigated but that the security agencies should be "commended for being able to bring to a stop this killing and destruction in just a few days".

Ms Akunyili also defended her earlier comments that the death of Mr Yusuf - who she described as being a leader "in the mode of Osama Bin Laden" - demise was "positive" for Nigeria.

She said if he had not been stopped the violence would have spread to other states in the north of the country.

Investigation call

Regional police assistant inspector-general, Moses Anegbode, had earlier told Nigerian television Mr Yusuf had been "killed by security forces in a shoot-out while trying to escape".

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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.

One policeman told AFP news agency Mr Yusuf had "pleaded for mercy and forgiveness before he was shot."

Rights groups have condemned the alleged manner of Mr Yusuf's death.

Human Rights Watch said there should be an immediate investigation into the case, which it has described as an "extrajudicial killing".

Amnesty International called for a full investigation into Mr Yusuf's detention and killing and said that anyone responsible for or tolerating illegal killings should be brought to justice.

Boko Haram - also known locally as Taliban - wants to overthrow the Nigerian government and impose a strict version of Islamic law.

Troops had stormed Boko Haram's stronghold in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday night, killing many of the militants and forcing others to flee.

The BBC's Bilkisu Babangida says the city is now returning to normal, with shops and banks re-opening.

She says many residents are happy that Mr Yusuf is dead.

'Excessive force'

The violence began on Sunday night in Bauchi state, before spreading to other towns and cities in the north-east of the West African nation.

AT THE SCENE
Bilkisu Babangida
Bilkisu Babangida
BBC News, Maiduguri
At about 1600 I was about to leave for home with the rest of the journalists. We received a phone call to return back to the government house because the man, Mohammed Yusuf, had been captured.

So we rushed up to that place. We heard some gunshots from somewhere, then we were told that the man had been "executed" at the police headquarters, at about 1900.

They kept us waiting, they kept all the newsmen away from the scene.

I saw a video and after that I rushed to the police headquarters and I saw the corpse. I even photographed the corpse of Mohammed Yusuf.

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 preacher from Yobe state, who had four wives and 12 children.

They described him as a inspirational 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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