MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - A radical Islamist sect in remote northeastern Nigeria, blamed for almost daily killings and attacks, on Monday rejected an offer of an amnesty.
Kashim Shettima, governor-elect of Borno state, made the amnesty offer to the Boko Haram sect shortly after winning April elections to try to end months of attacks on symbols of authority including politicians and police officers.
“We reject any offer of dialogue or so-called amnesty from Kashim Shettima for two reasons,” a spokesman for the group said in a statement broadcast on the BBC Hausa service, a local language radio station in northern Nigeria.
“First we do not believe in the Nigerian constitution and secondly we do not believe in democracy but only in the laws of Allah,” the spokesman said, speaking in Hausa.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful”, wants sharia (Islamic law) to be more widely applied across Nigeria but its views are not widely espoused by the country’s Muslim population, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sect members launched an uprising in 2009, attacking government buildings and triggering days of gun battles with the security forces in which up to 800 people were killed.
Its attacks became increasingly political in the run-up to last month’s presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections but there has been no let-up in the violence since then.
Three prison warders and a housewife were shot dead in two separate incidents in the state capital Maiduguri last week and a policeman was seriously injured in another shooting.
Maiduguri lies in one of Nigeria’s poorest regions near its northeastern borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger in the Sahel, a strip of savannah on the southern edge of the Sahara.
It is unclear how many followers Boko Haram has, but poverty, unemployment and a lack of education have meant its leaders have managed to build a cult-like following which is as much violently anti-establishment as fervently religious.
Its attacks have long been opportunistic and disorganised but security sources say there is growing evidence of links with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the north African arm of al Qaeda, which is known to have a presence in Niger.
Security sources say there is evidence that AQIM has given some funding to Boko Haram and that some members of the sect have been trained at camps outside Nigeria.