July 12, 2011 / 7:24 PM / in 6 years

Thousands flee Nigerian city hit by sect attacks

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Thousands fled the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Tuesday and the local university was shut after a week of clashes between an Islamist sect and military forces.

<p>A soldier stands near a burned vehicle which was carrying tomatoes along a road in Nigeria's central city of Jos, January 20, 2010. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye</p>

The Boko Haram sect, which says it wants a wider application of sharia Islamic law across Africa’s most populous nation, has claimed responsibility for the killings of police officers and attacks on churches and drinking places in recent months.

Three people were killed and two soldiers injured by a blast on Tuesday in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and the focus of recent attacks, the operations officer of a joint military task force (JTF) said.

“The blast occurred when a patrol team of the JTF was attacked on Tuesday morning ... (we) blame Boko Haram for planting improvised explosive devices in residential areas,” Colonel Victor Ebhaleme told Reuters.

Most of the attacks have been around Maiduguri, a city in one of the poorest regions in Nigeria, close to borders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad. More than 150 people have been killed this year in the city of more than 1.2 million people.

The army said 11 members of Boko Haram were killed and two soldiers wounded on Saturday night as the military stepped up efforts to curb the violence.

Thousands boarded trucks to exit the city, witnesses said. “We are going to Kano where my late husband who was killed by soldiers last Saturday comes from,” Aishatu Musa, a woman with five children, told Reuters.

Last week authorities in Maiduguri banned motorcycles, which have been used for bombings and shootings. But the motorbikes are an important means of transport for local traders who play a key role in the local economy.

The University of Maiduguri was closed on Monday.

“After an emergency meeting of the university senate, it was decided that lectures be suspended in view of the prevailing security situation until further notice,” a university statement said. “All students have been directed to vacate hostels.”

Bomb blasts in the north have replaced militant attacks on oil facilities hundreds of kilometres (miles) away in the southern Niger Delta as the main security threat in Nigeria. The United States and European Union have condemned the violence.

President Goodluck Jonathan, sworn in for his first full term in late May, has voiced support for dialogue, but the Boko Haram group has said it will negotiate only if demands including the resignation of the Borno state government are met.

Boko Haram strikes have spread farther afield in recent months, including a bomb in the car park of national police headquarters in the capital, Abuja, last month.

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