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Tension Grips Northern Nigeria After Cleric's Assassination


A popular Islamic preacher in northwestern Nigeria has died, hours after being shot near a mosque. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports that confirmation of the cleric's death has set residents on edge.

Residents of the religious city of Sokoto are fearful that tensions of the past couple of hours could escalate into fighting, following news that radical Sunni cleric Umaru Danshiya has died, six hours after surgery.

Local journalist Yusuf Bindaji says most residents are bracing themselves for more violence.

"His death will cause a lot of things, especially in Sokoto. Those people who were thinking that he didn't die, today that there is confirmation that he is dead," he said. "People are saying that they are taking revenge, because he was killed unjustly by Shiite Muslims. There is a lot of tension going on right now. And this is happening when the Sultan and the governor are not in town."

The Islamic preacher had conducted a prayer session at the local mosque when four assailants approached him and shot him in the hip.

His supporters responded spontaneously, attacking the city's minority Shi'ites who they blamed for the shooting.

Bindaji says tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites have a political dimension.

"This is a well-known war between the Muslim Shittes and Sunnis," added Bindaji. "It started two to three years ago and because of the political problems, the present [state] government is in power as a result of support from Sunnis, while the outgoing government supported the Shi'ite sect."

Sokoto is the seat of the Sultan of Sokoto, spiritual head of Nigeria's estimated 70 million Muslims, who are mostly Sunni.

Police and soldiers are patrolling the streets to prevent further revenge attacks.

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