ABUJA — Five Nigerian policemen pleaded not guilty Tuesday to killing an Islamist leader following a 2009 uprising by his group, a case some say is aimed at persuading militants to halt a wave of attacks.
The officers, arraigned at federal high court in the capital, were charged with two counts of committing a “terrorist act” and “unlawfully killing” Mallam Mohammed Yusuf and a number of followers in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.
All of the officers pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Judge Donaltus Okorowo said the court will fix a date for the start of the trial after ruling on a bail request on July 28.
Yusuf was captured alive by troops during a brutal military raid in 2009, but police said he was killed in a shootout while trying to escape. The raid left hundreds dead and the sect’s mosque and headquarters in ruins.
The military action followed a series of attacks on police posts by the sect, known as Boko Haram.
Boko Haram went dormant after the military raid, but re-emerged last year with a series of shootings by motorcycle-riding gunmen targeting police, soldiers, politicians and community leaders.
They have since moved on to bomb blasts, and there have been almost daily attacks in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north in recent weeks.
Hundreds of troops have been deployed to Maiduguri, where most of the violence has occurred, but the attacks have continued. Thousands of residents have fled the city, fearing more violence linked to Islamist attacks and soldiers’ response.
Troops have been accused of shooting civilians and burning their homes over accusations that residents cooperated with the Islamists, which the military denies.
Some local media have suggested that prosecutors’ decision to revive the old case over Yusuf’s death is meant to persuade the sect to halt the recent attacks.
The group claims to be fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 150 million people roughly divided in half between Christians and Muslims.