It appears that the leader of the religious sect involved in the bloody violence of the last few days in northern Nigeria has been killed by the Nigerian security forces. Strangely an announcement on state radio by the Borno state police commissioner Christopher Dega announced that Mohammed Yusuf died “in police custody”. That is a very odd announcement that will be treated with some suspicion given that witnesses have alleged seeing security forces summarily execute some of the Boko Haram members after capturing them.
This situation needs to be handled carefully. The army’s offensive (“Operation Flush”) is commanded by an Igbo Christian (Colonel Ben Ahanotu) so any unecessary casualties may stir up religious passions. The death of Yusuf may sap the militants morale and lead to them being crushed by the security forces. Certainly there has not been much public sympathy for their aims (elimination of Western education) thus the army has public support to deal ruthlessly with them.
Alternatively Yusuf’s death may further radicalise and incite his followers to greater acts of violence now that they have nothing to lose.