Profile of group in Nigeria calling for Islamic law to be implemented throughout country.
|Eight men, believed to be Boko Haram members, faced court for their suspected role in the August 26 attack [Reuters]|
Prosecutors in Nigeria have accused four men of organising the August 26 suicide bombing at the United Nations headquarters in the West African nation that killed 23 people, bringing charges that carry the death penalty.
The four men charged came in a group of 19 brought before a magistrate court in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Friday. All are accused of belonging to the Muslim sect, Boko Haram, which claimed responsibility for the attack that also wounded 116 others.
In charging documents, prosecutors said Abdusalami Adamu, Danzumi Haruna, Salisu Mohammed and Musa Mukailu of Kano ordered a suicide bomber driving a Honda 4WD vehicle to attack the world body’s headquarters.
The men did not make pleas as Azubuike Okegu, the magistrate judge, said the case should be transferred to Nigeria’s Federal High Court system. He ordered the suspects held until a court appearance on November 3.
It was not immediately clear if the men had lawyers. Prosecutors also said 25 people died in the car bomb attack, up from an estimate of 23 offered by the UN.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The sect has assassinated local officials and bombed locations around Nigeria in the last year as it continues its campaign for the strict implementation of sharia [Muslim law] across the country.
The attack launched far from the group’s base in the country’s northeast represented a major escalation in violence. Officials also fear the group now has ties to terror organisations linked to al-Qaeda elsewhere in Africa.
In a related development, Olusegun Obasanjo, one of Nigeria’s best known elder statesman, met family members of the slain former leader of Boko Haram as part of a peace initiative.
Obasanjo, who served as president between 1999 and 2007 and still wields influence in Africa’s most populous nation, went to the northeastern city of Maiduguri on Thursday for the meeting, according to those in attendance.
Obasanjo spoke with the family of Mohammed Yusuf for two hours, Shehu Sani, a civil rights activist, said on Friday.
The meeting represented the first visit of a Nigerian leader to the family since Yusuf was killed while in police custody following a 2009 sectarian riot and security crackdown that left 700 people dead.
“It was an open, heart-to-heart discussion during which he inquired about what happened two years ago and how to end the violence that the 2009 killings precipitated,” Babakura Fugu, Yusuf’s brother-in-law, said by phone.
During Thursday’s meeting, Sani said Obasanjo asked the family why Boko Haram continued to attack security agents, religious leaders and government officials.
Relatives said the attacks represented revenge against the government for Yusuf’s death and the killing of two other leaders during the 2009 uprising, Sani said.
Yusuf’s relatives also provided rare details about the group, saying they have representatives in Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
“They said the Nigerian security forces and the army cannot crush them because they have the capacity to reach out to anywhere if they want to,” Sani said.
Fugu said the meeting with Obasanjo raised their “confidence by 100 per cent” and that Obasanjo promised to brief Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s current president, about the talks.
Family members asked Obasanjo to have their destroyed homes rebuilt, to receive a promised court settlement of $6,600 from the government, Fugu said.
They also asked that officials compensate other sect members who lost relatives in the 2009 security crackdown.
It remains unclear who is actually leading Boko Haram since Yusuf’s death.
Analysts and diplomats have said they believe the sect is split into at least three sub-groups, each with its own command structure.
Complex bank robberies appear to be aimed at funding the group, but Yusuf’s family said about 40 per cent of the sect’s funding now comes from outside of Nigeria.