Nigeria hunts Islamic sect, women and children freed

Wed Jul 29, 2009 2:43pm GMT

By Ibrahim Mshelizza

MAIDUGURI (Reuters) - Security forces in northern Nigeria have freed nearly 200 women and children during a crackdown on a radical Islamic sect responsible for violence that has killed at least 150 people.

Soldiers in armoured personnel carriers surrounded and shelled parts of a compound that is home to Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the radical Boko Haram sect, in the city of Maiduguri, destroying buildings including a small mosque.

The preacher's whereabouts were unknown. Joint military and armed police patrols went from house to house searching for his followers, arresting more than 100 people.

Police said they had freed 180 women and children whose husbands and fathers were among Yusuf's followers. Members of the sect say their wives should not be seen by other men and that their children should receive only a Koranic education.

"The soldiers and police are now combing the whole city of Maiduguri, going house to house searching for followers of the Boko Haram," Maiduguri resident Adamu Yari told Reuters.

"Hundreds of the members have been arrested," he said, adding that the sound of military bombardments from the area around Yusuf's compound had continued throughout the night.

Police in Kano, 500 km (310 miles) further west, said they had arrested 53 Boko Haram followers including the second in command in the state and said they were under orders to destroy the local leader's home and mosque.

They said the men had been found with home-made guns and explosives and were believed to be planning attacks. Arrests have also been made in Sokoto, in the far northwest.   Continued...

<p>Nigerian soldiers patrol the city of Jos November 30, 2008. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye</p>
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