MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Nigerian police detained 17 officers for questioning after an international news channel aired a video showing uniformed men executing people in a town where religious rioting occurred, a spokesman said today.
Police spokesman Yemi Ajyai said agents of the Nigerian police’s Special Forces Squad detained the officers over the weekend and took them to Abuja, the capital, for questioning. Ajyai said investigators suspect the officers took part in extrajudicial killings after fighting between police and Muslim militants left 700 people dead in northern Nigeria last year.
Ajyai said a video aired on news channel Al-Jazeera sparked the arrests. That footage showed what appeared to be a mixed police and army unit conducting door-to-door searches. It later showed two uniformed men forcing groups of young men to lie face-down at the side of a busy road. The uniformed men then fired into the men’s backs. Their hands were tied behind their backs.
The video showed two others on crutches forced to lie down by the corpses and be shot, with the news channel describing an officer shouting: “Shoot him in the chest, not the head. I want his hat.”
The footage could not be authenticated by The Associated Press.
The fighting began after militants from a group known as Boko Haram — translated as “Western education is sacrilege” — attacked a police station in Bauchi state in late July. Violence quickly spread to three other states before Nigerian forces retaliated, storming the group’s Maiduguri compound.
Nigerian police and army officials denied committing extrajudicial killings while responding to the rioting. However, human rights groups say such killings are common across the West African nation. Authorities have been accused of killing Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf while he was in custody. Police officials he was killed while trying to escape, but army officials said he was alive when he was arrested. On Feb. 9, when the video was shown, Al-Jazeera also aired footage that showed a dead man who closely resembled Yusuf, with his hands cuffed behind his back.
At the time, Borno state Police Commissioner Ibrahim Abdu described the video as false and “a deliberate attempt of the surviving sect members to cause confusion and threats.” Today, Abdu declined to discuss why the men were detained.
“I cannot deny the arrests of some of my officers and men,” Abdu said.