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Nigerian Army Losing Grip On Northeast As Islamists Rampage

(Reuters) – Nigeria’s military is losing control of swathes of the largely Muslim northeast to radical Islamist insurgents who are killing civilians almost daily, and the run-up to elections next year risks aggravating the violence further.

Islamist sect Boko Haram has killed thousands since it launched an uprising in 2009 in a bid to carve out an Islamic state in the West African country of 170 million people, divided roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.

More than 150 civilians have died in Boko Haram attacks in the last four days, adding to the 300 killed last month, according to Reuters figures and security sources, one of the worst periods in the northeast since the sect intensified its insurgency three years ago.

A security source, who asked not to be named, said 2,100 people were killed in Boko Haram violence in the last six months.

Nigeria – Africa’s biggest oil producer and second largest economy – is a year away from a presidential election and already the two main political parties are trading blame over the escalating Boko Haram conflict.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who is expected to run for re-election in next February’s vote, declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states last May and launched a military surge into the zone. It has failed to stem the bloodshed.

Elections are often violent periods in Nigeria and politicians have in the past paid armed groups to destabilize regions, which could allow Boko Haram the opportunity to extend its insurgency towards the nation’s center.

“The north-east is likely to witness some of the highest levels of violence during the elections given that fierce political competition will overlay existing insecurity,” said Roddy Barclay, Nigeria analyst at Control Risks.

“But perhaps the greatest risk stems from Boko Haram taking advantage of any outbreak in post-election unrest to incite ethno-religious violence in the north,” he said.

Boko Haram is increasingly targeting the civilian population and caused international outrage when dozens of school children were slaughtered in an attack last month. Young girls are regularly kidnapped by insurgents.


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