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10/16/2013

Nigeria's killing fields (and prisons and schools)

Nigeria_college_attack_092913
In this image taken with a mobile phone, rescue workers and family members gather to identify the shrouded bodies of students killed following an attack by Islamist extremists on an agricultural college in Gujba, Nigeria Sept. 29, 2013. ASSOCIATED PRESS

A devastating cycle of violence is gripping Nigeria's north but getting little attention - perhaps a victim of what Alkasim Abdulkadir calls in a recent African Arguments column, the country's "tragedy fatigue."

Members of Boko Haram have been waging war in an effort to establish an Islamic state, targetting churches and schools in a series of harrowing attacks. The group's name roughly translates to "Western education is a sin" in the local Hausa language. On Sept. 29, Boko Haram fighters reportedly killed more than 40 college students - some as they slept in the school dorm, others shot in the back as they tried to flee.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International released a report highlighting the devastating toll on Nigeria's education system. Since 2012, at least 70 teachers and more than 100 students have been killed. Just the threat of the violence is enough to keep students at home.

But on Wednesday, Amnesty released another report detailing the war's other side - the brutal suppression and torture by Nigeria's security forces. Amnesty called for an immediate investigation into what they claim are the deaths of hundreds of prisoners, suspected of Boko Haram connections. The report states that in the first six months of this year, 950 Boko Haram suspects have died in harrowing conditions - of starvation or suffocation in crowded cells. Others were reportedly shot during interrogations and left to bleed to death.

Although Boko Haram uses the jihadi rhetoric common among other Islamic insurgencies, their fight is very much a domestic revolt and mass arrests, prison deaths and reported extrajudicial killings serve their agenda and help build support.

The Council For Foreign Relations has tracked these deaths - both at the hands of Boko Haram and the State - beginning with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's May 29, 2011 inauguration. Details are found here: http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/nigeria-security-tracker/p29483.


Michelle Shephard is the Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recipient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm

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