Regional political leaders in Cameroon are urging citizens to be vigilant following an attack Wednesday on a mosque that killed at least 12 people — the latest in a series of attacks blamed on Boko Haram militants.
Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of the Far North Region of Cameroon, said Muslims should be on guard at mosques to help avert the kind of attacks that have plagued Muslims attending morning prayers.
Bakari said he is asking the population to create vigilante groups to control access to mosques and places where people gather.
He said all prayer sessions in mosques should be divided into two, with the first group praying and the second group keeping watch. The groups would then switch. He also said unknown people should not be given access to mosques.
Boko Haram blamed
Bakari said the attack in the town of Kolofata is believed to have been carried out by Boko Haram members who crossed the border into Cameroon a few days ago. He said it was the third attack on a mosque in less than three weeks.
The town of Kolofata, in Cameroon's far north near the border with Nigeria, has been repeatedly attacked by Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic extremist group.
Muslim cleric Imam Ahmidou Moustapha of Kolofata said asking a Muslim not to pray with others of their faith is contrary to their religious teachings. But he says it is an option when they are faced with terrorist acts.
Moustapha said the most important thing is for people to forgo rivalries and to work together for peace. He said people should understand there will always be differences among them.
General Kodji Jacob, a senior commander of troops fighting the Boko Haram insurgency, has also called on the population to collaborate with the government by reporting suspicious strangers and denouncing suspects. He said the border between Cameroon and Nigeria is very porous and the military alone cannot secure it.
Jacob said there is regular movement of people across the Cameroon-Nigeria border, and it is the role of the military to systematically check people crossing it.
For the past six years, Boko Haram has been leading attacks on Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger in an effort to set up an Islamic caliphate.
Since last November, Nigerian and Cameroonian forces have increased raids on Boko Haram strongholds to crush the insurgency.
FILE - Cameroon soldiers stand guard at a lookout post as they take part in operations against the Islamic extremists group Boko Haram.
Officials said the raids have weakened Boko Haram's capacity to fight back, forcing them to attack the mosques. The group also has increasingly targeted imams and traditional chiefs for their opposition to the Islamists.
Cameroon has banned the Islamic veil in an effort to preempt suicide bombings staged by attackers wearing the full-face veil.
According to the United Nations, about 20,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million more made homeless in Boko Haram-related violence.