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Boko Haram Fears, Woman’s Defiance Lead to Tragedy in Nigeria

Section of road controlled by Boko Haram, in northeastern Nigeria

A tragic mix-up in the Nigerian city of Bauchi on Sunday led to a mob killing a woman wrongfully suspected of being a suicide bomber.

For the past several months, authorities at the Muda Lawal market in Bauchi have hired armed civilians -- sometimes called vigilantes -- to search incoming shoppers and vehicles, as a way of protecting the market from gunmen and bombers.

When a woman approached the entrance to the fruits and vegetables section wearing an overcoat, her refusal to be searched quickly turned deadly.

Ibrahim Musa saw what happened. He said the vigilantes were suspicious of the woman from the moment they first saw her.

Eyewitness account

He said they insisted she be searched, but she resisted, leading to an altercation with people in the market. Musa said she was escorted out, and then came back along with a man in an army uniform. She resumed arguing with the vigilantes until the soldier left, at which point Musa said they vigilantes attacked her. They beat her, then put tires on her, and set her ablaze.

No bomb was found on the woman's body.

Like many cities in northeastern Nigeria, Bauchi has been bombed in recent months by the extremist group Boko Haram, which has been fighting to impose their strict version of Islamic law across the northeast. They’ve taken over swaths of the region, and sent suicide bombers to assault public places, including a market in Bauchi in December.

An offensive by multi-national military forces in recent weeks has pushed Boko Haram out of some of their strongholds in the northeast. Security experts believe the insurgents will step up guerilla tactics, though, like bombings as they lose territory, particularly as the March 28 presidential election nears.

Causing confusion

Bawa Abdullahi Wase, a security analyst and associate at the Network for Justice, said the fear caused by Boko Haram’s random bombing was a catalyst for the killing of the woman, who has still not been identified.

“Nigerians should be prepared for more incidents like this. Because there is desperation, people want to cause confusion," said Wase. "People want to make sure that they disrupt the system of this election that’s coming up this month, at all costs, so as long as this be the cause, as we know it is, people should be prepared to see more of this.”

Police in Bauchi said they are looking for the people that killed the woman, but have made no arrests yet.

Community leader Zubair Yakubu condemned the slaying. "As it turned out to be that she was not a Boko Haram member, this is a gruesome murder. And I would call on our people to please calm down. Don’t take the laws into their hands,” he said.

Trading at the market continued as usual after the woman was killed.