The violence that erupted in Nigeria’s northern state of Bauchi last week, highlights the strong streak of Islamic fundamentalism that pervades much of Africa's most populous country and brings Nigeria back into the spotlight after the attempted suicide attack, on Christmas day, on NW flight 253 by young Nigerian terrorist Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab,

Muslim leaders in Nigeria have repeatedly denied allegations that the Al-Qaeda network is active in the country. For its part, the Nigerian government, while admitting that it has problems on its hands, insists that terrorism is alien to the country. But these statements downplay the capacity of international terrorism to infiltrate and permeate societies that are already prone to Islamic fundamentalism. Moreover, northern Nigeria borders Niger and Mali, a battleground for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an offshoot of the former Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, whose activities have included kidnapping and killing westerners. This closeness can only facilitate Al-Qaeda’s goals to expand the activities of its global jihad.

While the Nigerian government and Muslim authorities have condemned the failed bombing as an "isolated act", radical Islamist movements are thriving in a country where 12 northern states, out of a total of 36, reintroduced the Sharia (Islamic law) in 2000. Moreover, a series of recent attacks on Nigerian government targets by Muslim hardliners shows that a combination of radical Islam and disaffected youths is proving to be a volatile cocktail that might strike the country again and again.

It was only last July when an organization called Boko Haram, whose name means, “western education is a sin”, led an insurrection in nearby Borno State. At least 800 people were killed when security forces crushed the uprising. This group is also known by the name of Al Sunna Wal Jamma, or the “Followers of Mohammad’s Teachings.” The group was founded in 2004 in Kanamma village in northern Yobe State, which borders Niger. Many members of Boko Haram are disgruntled youth, many whom are university student dropouts and disillusioned graduates. Boko Haram demands a “full Sharia” “adoption in the 12 states of northern Nigeria. The group seeks a ban throughout Nigeria on Western education, culture, and science that the group deems sinful, and aims to provide Islamic schooling as the only form of education to the public. Is Boko Haram Nigeria's Taliban? Asks columnist Cameron Duodu on The Guardian. And the question is certainly pertinent.

The mounting inter-religious violence has in fact raised deep concerns. Solomon Lar, the first chairman of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Nigeria has denounced that non-Muslim citizens strongly resent being "discriminated against" in the northern states of the country, where Islam is the predominant religion. Lar warned that the country might break up if efforts to Islamicise the north continue.

He said that: “In the north today, some states discriminate against Christians, so much so that if you are a Christian, or if you are not a Muslim, they will not give you a piece of land to build a church. They will not employ Christians. They will not allow Christian children to go to public schools. They don't allow the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge in their in schools. If Christian children go to public schools in those states, they would be forced to change their names to Muslim names. For example if you are Gabriel, they will change your name to Jibril. If you are Moses, they will call you Musa. This is very bad.”

Many Muslims are trying to deny what is going on in the north, though it is public knowledge that some states, where Sharia law has been adopted, do not, for instance, allow men and women to travel together on public transport.

According to police reports, 35 members of the Islamic religious sect called Kala Kato, including their leader, Mallam Badamasi, were killed in a shoot-out with security operatives. However, an AFP reporter listed at least 42 bodies on the floor of the morgue in the city of Bauchi, all with bullet or machete wounds. Another 25 bodies, mostly young people including minors, had been placed in cold storage rooms.

Police authorities in Abuja confirmed this, adding that the situation had been brought under control. Assistant Commissioner of Police Emmanuel Ojukwu, declared: “The Nigeria Police Force, in collaboration with other security agencies, yesterday restored normalcy to Bauchi town, following a mayhem that trailed the disagreement between leader of Kala-Kato sect, Mallam Badamasi and some former disciples,” and added: “The disagreement stemmed from the preaching of the leaders of this sect, as some former adherents of Mallam Badamasi invaded the preaching ground for a brawl, threatening the security of the people living in the area.”

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