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Published: Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 12:20:02 AM
Updated: Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 12:21:04 AM

Nigerian army wants 500 suspects tried for terrorism

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's army said on Wednesday it had identified more than 500 suspected Islamist militants - including members of the security forces who had supported the insurgents - and called for them to be tried on terrorism charges.

The army said the suspects were detained during a crackdown in the northeast, where soldiers are trying to end a 4-1/2 year insurgency by Islamist sect Boko Haram.

"Among those recommended for trial are a medical doctor, paramilitary or service personnel who were fighting on the side of the terrorists and other individuals who offered direct logistics support to the terrorists," Defence Headquarters spokesman Chris Olukolade said.

They also included "high profile suspects some of whom were training other terrorists in weapon handling as well as those who confessed to being trained in Mali and other countries," he added.

Suspected members of Boko Haram stormed the air force base and several other military locations in an apparently coordinated attack in the northeast town of Maiduguri on Monday, underlining the sect's continued threat to security in Africa's top oil producer.

The military set up an investigation team to screen a total of 1,400 people detained during the operation in the northeast. On Wednesday, it said it was still reviewing more than 600 cases and had advised the authorities to release some of the detainees.

The attorney general was now looking into its recommendations to prosecute the rest, it added.

The recommendations for the suspects to face trial come after sustained calls from Western governments in recent months for Nigerian authorities to follow the rule of law in their fight against Boko Haram and other militants.

Rights groups have accused security forces of arbitrary detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings - allegations dismissed by the army and the government.

In May, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states and ordered an intensified military offensive to crush Islamist militants.

Thousands of people have been killed this year alone in violence linked to Boko Haram, a group which wants to impose Islamic law, or sharia, in a country of nearly 170 million people split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.

Although Boko Haram mostly focuses its attacks on security forces, it has frequently targeted civilians, including slaughtering students in colleges and bombing packed churches, mosques and markets.

The group heightened its international profile in August 2011 when it carried out a suicide bombing at United Nations headquarters in the capital Abuja that killed 24 people.

Amnesty International said in October nearly 1,000 people, mostly suspected Islamist militants, died in Nigerian prison in the first half of this year.

Nigeria's government has dismissed the allegations and said rare cases of abuse are dealt with.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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