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17 DIE IN ISLAMIC SECT–SECURITY TASK FORCE CLASH

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Seventeen persons, including traders, were shot in Maiduguri, Borno State on Thursday morning, following a clash between members of the state special security task force code named, Operation Flush, and an Islamic sect.

By mid day, palpable apprehension permeated the city, as it was feared the incident might degenerate into a religious upheaval.

Saturday Sun gathered that members of a famous Islamic sect, Mohammed Yusuf Movement, taged a funeral procession along the Customs area, apparently to bury some of their members who reportedly died in a motor accident on their way from Biu, where they had gone for an Islamic programme (Dawa) the previous night.

Sources said two commercial motorcyclists, who were stopped by soldiers and police officers attached to the joint patrol task force for violating traffic rules, had identified themselves as members of the sect on a mission to bury their deceased colleagues.

'The Operation Flush people arrested them because they rode recklessly and did not wear helmets. But these people started arguing with the soldiers and police, claiming they were going for Aikin Ibadah (God's work). It was then their people, who were coming from behind, started shouting Allahu Akbar (Allah is great) and tried to challenge the authority of the security men. Unfortunately, the task force men thought the sect was out to foment trouble and that was how they started shooting sporadically,' an eyewitness told Saturday Sun.

It was gathered that the decision of the members of the Islamic sect to force security men to release the commercial motorcyclists compelled the Operation Flush officers to shoot, fearing possible attack. Fourteen members of the sect were shot while stray bullets reportedly hit two traders around the Customs market.

The victims of the clash, it was gathered, are critically lying ill at the accident and emergency unit of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH).

Acting Chief Medical Director of the hospital and Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, Dr Alim Madziga, told journalists that the hospital's emergency ward had not receive such number of accident or emergency patients, adding that they were compelled to deploy most of their medical officers to attend to the patients because of the magnitude of the victimsh and the degree of injuries.

'We receive quite a number of injured persons in the early hours of today (Thursday). A total of 17 persons were brought to the accident and emergency department and 15 were admitted while two were treated and discharged,' Alim disclosed.

He explained that 14 members of the group were critically injured from gun shot, while three got wounds from stray bullets. He gave assurance on the determination of the medical personnel to carry out their duties.

The commandant of the Operation Flush, Col Ohanatu, was not available in when our correspondent visited his office, while his deputy, John Abang, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), told Saturday Sun on phone that he could not volunteer any information as he was busy with other schedules. The Commissioner of Police, Mr Chris Dega, could not be reached. He was said to be attending security meeting at the Government House at the time of filing this report on Thursday.

However, security has been beefed up in the metropolis and public buildings to forestall possible breakdown of law and order, as members of the sect were alleged to have vowed to fight back.