Confusion and fear of a possible sectarian crisis reigned in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri yesterday when a squad of the state's special anti-robbery outfit Operation Flush shot 17 followers of the Muslim cleric Malam Mohammad Yusuf.
Daily Trust learnt that trouble began when the sect members were on their way to a cemetery in a procession to bury four of their members who died in a motor accident along Biu-Maiduguri road a day earlier. Some of them who rode on motor bikes were intercepted by an Operation Flush patrol team and asked why they were not wearing crash helmets. The sect members did not take kindly to the enquiry, which they thought was a provocation given that they were in a funeral procession.
Borno Commissioner of Police Mr. Christopher Dega said the group had disagreements with members of the joint Military and Police patrol team known as Operation Flush in Maiduguri "over traffic related violations by the procession. He added, "One thing led to another and a member of the Patrol team stationed at the Customs roundabout opened fire to save his colleagues from the mob."
Among the wounded were 14 members of the group and 3 on-lookers that were hit by stray bullets. The Acting Chief Medical Director of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, Dr. Alim Madziga said the Hospital "is currently treating 15 persons and another 2 victims have since been treated and discharged, all with gunshots wounds." He said so far, there were no deaths arising from the episode.
Tension was high in Maiduguri when reports filtered in of the sect members converging at their headquarters, the Ibn Taimiyya Mosque in Maiduguri. There were fears that they could attack the security agencies, especially if any of injured persons dies in the hospital. But doctors at UMTH said they were doing everything possible to save lives of the wounded, some of whom were seriously injured.
The group's leader Malam Mohammad Yusuf was said to be in Kaduna yesterday when the incident occurred, and it was believed that the sect members were awaiting his return. Daily trust however learnt last night that a meeting was organized by the state government at which police bosses and sect leaders were present to try to avert an escalation of the crisis.