Top Official Killed in Nigeria State Hit by Islamist Attacks

Gunmen have killed the justice commissioner for a Nigerian state at the heart of an Islamist insurgency and an ex-prisons chief in another area, government and police sources said Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the killings, but they occurred after security forces on Monday shot dead two suspected high-ranking members of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.

In Borno state, gunmen stormed the justice commissioner's home late Monday in the town of Bama in the country's northeast, the region where Boko Haram is based and which has been hard hit by gun and bomb attacks.

"We received the report of the death of the commissioner of justice, Zannah Malam Gana," a government official said on condition of anonymity. "He was shot dead by some gunmen in his house around 8:45 pm last night."

In the case of the former national prisons chief, a senior police officer said he was shot dead in Bauchi state in Nigeria's north as he was leaving a mosque near his house following evening prayers.

"The former comptroller-general of prisons is dead," the senior police officer said. "He died from the wounds he sustained in the attack last night."

Boko Haram is blamed for more than 1,400 deaths in northern and central Nigeria as part of its insurgency.

Nigerian soldiers on Monday shot dead a suspected media spokesman for Boko Haram and another high-ranking member.

Troops involved in the operation on the outskirts of the city of Kano said one of those killed was suspected to have been the Boko Haram spokesman who has used the alias Abul Qaqa.

A second man, believed to be the "field commander" for Kogi and Kaduna states as well as the capital Abuja, was also shot and later died from his wounds, according to a high-ranking security source.

Statements are often issued on behalf of Boko Haram in the name of Abul Qaqa, and someone identifying himself with that name has regularly held phone conferences with journalists.

Earlier this year, security sources said a suspect believed to be a person who goes by the alias Abul Qaqa had been arrested.

At the time, a purported Boko Haram member confirmed one of the group's high-ranking members had been arrested, but refuted reports that the detained person was its spokesman.

The group's attacks have grown increasingly deadly and sophisticated, including suicide bombings at U.N. headquarters in Abuja and an office for one of the country's most prominent newspapers. It has frequently targeted Nigerian symbols of authority.

Muslims have often been its victims, but it has attacked a number of churches in recent months and President Goodluck Jonathan has warned that the group is seeking to spark a religious conflict.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, is divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

There has been a lull in major attacks in recent weeks, with the government saying it was engaging in back-channel talks in an effort to halt the violence.

A previous attempt at dialogue earlier this year collapsed when a mediator quit over leaks to the media and a Boko Haram spokesman said they could not trust the government.

Boko Haram is believed to include several factions, and criminal gangs and others are thought to have carried out violence under the guise of the group.

Source: Agence France Presse

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