BAUCHI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Security forces killed at least 32 Nigerians in northeast Bauchi state Sunday after an armed gang attacked a police station in retaliation for the arrests of their leaders.
Around 70 Nigerians armed with guns and hand grenades attacked a local police station in the city of Bauchi, the state’s capital, early Sunday but retreated after a gunbattle with security forces, the police said.
Security forces responded by raiding the group’s neighborhoods and hideouts, arresting hundreds.
A Reuters reporter counted 32 bodies at two Bauchi police stations and said dozens were wounded among the more than 200 arrested.
Bauchi police spokesman Mohammed Barau said the armed gang belonged to Boko Haram, a local group that wants sharia (Islamic law) to be imposed on all of Nigeria.
“The situation is now under control. More members of the organization are being arrested,” Barau said.
A member of the gang who was wounded during the initial attack on the police station told Reuters the group wanted to “clean the (Nigerian) system which is polluted by western education and uphold sharia all over the country.”
“The police has been arresting our leaders that is why we decided to retaliate,” said the man, who gave his name only as Abdullah.
Bauchi is one of 12 states in the predominately Muslim north that started a stricter enforcement of sharia in 2000 -- a decision that alienated sizable Christian minorities and sparked bouts of sectarian violence that killed thousands.
Nigeria is roughly equally split between Christians and Muslims, although traditional animist beliefs underpin many people’s faith.
More than 200 ethnic groups generally live peacefully side by side in the West African country, although civil war left one million people dead between 1967 and 1970 and there have been bouts of religious unrest since then.
Last November, hundreds were killed in two days of clashes in the central city of Jos after a disputed election triggered the worst fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs in years in Africa’s most populous country.
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Writing by Randy Fabi; editing by Philippa Fletcher