Nigeria: Boko Haram murders Muslim cleric and 11 Christians in further attacks

In this photo dated 6 June 2013, soldiers stand guard at the offices of the state-run Nigerian Television Authority in Maiduguri, Nigeria. The radical group Boko Haram once attacked only government institutions and security forces, but now increasingly targets civilians.(AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Militants from Islamic sect Boko Haram opened fire on an outspoken Muslim cleric and his family as they travelled on 1 February, killing him, his wife and his 18-year-old son.

Reports suggest that gunmen intercepted a vehicle driven by prominent Salafi cleric Sheikh Mohammed Awwal Adam, otherwise known as Sheikh Albani, as he travelled with his wife, children and at least one student from his school in Zaria, Kaduna State on Saturday.

His wife and son died instantly during the attack, while the Sheikh himself died later on the way to the hospital. Three of his other children and a student also suffered bullet wounds.

Sheikh Albani was a scholar and leader within the Salafis Movement, a spokesperson for which said the murder was because of his decision to speak out publicly against Boko Haram, which has ties to Al-Qaeda.

"He has been preaching against the Boko Haram sect. Everybody knows him with that. Even in his afternoon lectures he admonished members of the Boko Haram group to stop the killings and that what they were doing is not Islamic," the spokesperson told Nigerian newspaper 'Leadership'.

"Not only the Boko Haram group, he has also preached against the government. He did that sometime in 2011, and the government detained him on the charge that he was preaching against them."

Sheikh Albani's lectures criticising the militants were recorded and sold throughout Nigeria.

Boko Haram is responsible for over two thousand deaths in Nigeria since 2009. Its leadership has declared its intention to cleanse the country of Christians, eradicate Nigerian democracy, and replace it with an Islamic state guided by Sharia law.

On 31 January, gunmen opened fire on a congregation at the Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria church in Adamawa State around 8.30pm in the evening, killing 11 people including a senior pastor.

Locals managed to stop the extremists from burning down the church, but the gunmen escaped into the bush and two church members are still missing.

This was the second attack by Boko Haram on a church congregation in less than a week.  At least 53 people died in another bout of violence in Adamawa State on 26 January, with dozens more wounded.

An estimated 85 people also perished in a second attack that same day in a village in neighbouring Borno State at the hands of Boko Haram.

Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mervyn Thomas, has condemned the violence, labelling the attacks "appalling" and demonstrative of "Boko Haram's wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life".

"Clearly Boko Haram constitutes a threat to all who do not adopt its infamous interpretation of Islam. We urge the security services to ensure the perpetrators of these crimes are swiftly apprehended so that those who dissent with Boko Haram's narrow and violent ideology are free to do so without fear," he concluded.

A funeral service was held for Sheikh Albani on Sunday, which was attended by thousands of mourners.

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