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Nigeria mosque attack raises questions over army offensive

Mosque attack claiming 56 lives casts doubt on army's Boko Haram campaign

AFP , Tuesday 13 Aug 2013
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Brutal attacks on a mosque and a village in north-eastern Nigeria that left 56 people dead raised fresh questions Tuesday over the military's offensive seeking to end a four-year Islamist insurgency.

Security forces claim they have chased out members of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and destroyed their camps, but a series of attacks on civilians in recent weeks has signalled that any gains may have been short-lived.

Some analysts say the military, which began its offensive in May, may have only succeeded so far in pushing the insurgents into more remote areas, where recent violence has occurred.

The army's strategy of encouraging the formation of citizen vigilante groups to help find and arrest Boko Haram members may also be backfiring, with concerns that the group is targeting civilians out of revenge and to instill fear.

"Such attacks targeting people helping the authorities against Boko Haram is bound to continue," said Abdullahi Bawa Wase, a security analyst and rapporteur at the UN Department for Safety and Security.

"And there is more to it than that. Following the state of emergency, Boko Haram was pushed out to the border with Cameroon where they still hold sway.

"The responsibility of the security personnel is not to push out the insurgents but to neutralise them, arrest and prosecute them."

The attacks over the weekend at the mosque in Konduga and the village of Ngom village in the nearby Mafa district were believed to be out of revenge for the activities of the vigilante groups.

On Sunday morning, suspected Boko Haram members stormed the mosque in Konduga and shot dead 44 people, a senior government official said.

In Mafa on Saturday night, the insurgents shot dead 12 others at the victims' homes, another local official said.

Many details of the violence remained unclear and the military has not provided any official statement. Neither could military officials be reached on Tuesday.

The army launched the offensive after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeast, Boko Haram's home base, on May 14.

There appeared to be a decline in the number of attacks after the offensive was launched, but security forces have cut phone lines in the region and access to remote areas is restricted, making it difficult to verify the army's claims.

Recent weeks have seen particularly violent assaults targeting civilians, including three attacks on schools.

The insurgency has left some 3,600 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces, who have been accused of major abuses.

Boko Haram has claimed to be seeking an Islamic state in Africa's most populous nation, but it is also believed to include various factions with different aims.

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