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Nigerian Civilians Caught In Crackdown On Islamists


In Nigeria an Islamist insurgency has claimed thousands of lives, most of them civilians. The Nigerian president imposed a security crackdown last spring in a bid to end the uprising. Now Amnesty International is out with a report warning that more than 950 people have died in military detention in Nigeria in just the first half of this year. And the attacks continue. NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, reports from, Lagos.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The Nigerian military operation to try to drive out Islamist extremists, known by the name Boko Haram, gathered steam earlier this year. That's after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three troublesome northeastern states, where the group the U.S. has described as a terrorist network had intensified its four-year campaign of violence against the authorities. Boko Haram means Western Education is Sinful and it has vowed to topple the government and impose strict Islamic law across Nigeria.

But human rights groups, the latest being Amnesty International, point to abuses not only by the insurgents, but also by Nigeria's security forces in the north. Amnesty's Lucy Freeman says hundreds of people are being killed by soldiers - deaths, a report says, are confirmed by a credible unnamed senior Nigerian army officer.

LUCY FREEMAN: The ones that we interviewed who had spent time in military detention had seen people being beaten and not receiving the necessary medical attention and dying in detention.

QUIST-ARCTON: Amnesty International says almost a thousand people have been killed between January and June this year, all of them held in military custody. The new report says causes of death include suffocation and starvation.

FREEMAN: We also interviewed people who told us that they'd seen people being shot and those people not receiving the required medical attention - shot in the foot or the leg for example - and those people bleeding to death.

QUIST-ARCTON: Echoing journalists' reports, Freeman told the BBC that testimonials from survivors spoke of the corpses of mainly young men being piled up and deposited at hospital morgues, in military vehicles. But Nigeria's army denies Amnesty's allegations that its troops are committing such atrocities. Interior Minister, Abba Moro.

INTERIOR MINISTER ABBA MORO: I want to assure you that this government will not, definitely, take the lives of any of its citizens, because it is the responsibility of government to protect lives and property.

QUIST-ARCTON: The minister denied Amnesty's reports of hundreds of deaths but acknowledged some speaking in an interview with the BBC.

MORO: Some of these people certainly may, which is unfortunate, have died in detention.

QUIST-ARCTON: But there are complaints from residents in the three northeastern Nigerian states under emergency law, and from Amnesty International and others, that innocent people are being rounded by the military and branded as Boko Haram terrorists. Or they're accused by soldiers of helping the extremists and are detained. In May, Secretary of State John Kerry noted deep concern over what he called credible allegations of gross human rights' violations by Nigeria's security forces. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Lagos.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.