Nigerian soldiers fighting Boko Haram sentenced to death for mutiny

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Military tribunal finds 12 soldiers guilty of revolt and attempted murder of commanding officer after an ambush by insurgents

Twelve soldiers fighting an Islamist insurgency in north-eastNigeriahave been sentenced to death by firing squad for mutiny and attempted murder of their commanding officer. In a decision read out early on Tuesday by Brig Gen Chukwuemeka Okonkwo, the military tribunal found 12 soldiers guilty and cleared five others. One was sentenced to 28 days in jail with hard labour.

All the accused, ranging in rank from private to corporal, had denied the charges.

The revolt occurred after a convoy of soldiers was ordered to drive at night on a road frequently attacked byBoko Haramextremists. The soldiers initially refused, saying it was a suicide mission. But they eventually followed orders and were ambushed on 13 May by insurgents on the road from the north-east town of Chibok. An unknown number were killed.

Chibok is the town from which more than 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped a month earlier. More than 50 have escaped but the rest remain captive.

The failure to rescue the girls is a sign of the inability of Nigeria's military and government to contain a five-year-old Islamist uprising that has killed thousands, with soldiers accused of gross human rights abuses in the process. Demoralised soldiers have told the Associated Press that they are outgunned by the insurgents, frequently are not paid in full, and feel abandoned on the battlefield, left without enough ammunition or food. Endemic corruption in Nigeria means millions of dollars budgeted for the fight against the extremists goes missing.

When the bodies of the ambushed soldiers were brought to the barracks in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri on 14 May, the soldiers revolted, throwing stones at their commanding officer, firing into the air and then shooting at him. Several bullets hit the armour-plated vehicle in which he sought refuge. The officer, Maj Gen A Mohammed, was unharmed.

The judgment issued by the nine-member court martial panel said the soldiers accused their officers of cowardice and threatened to shoot them.

The panel said it "considered the gravity of the offence alleged, particularly the attempt to kill the general officer commanding 7 Division, Nigerian army, and its likely effect on the counter-insurgency operations in the north-east as well as its implications on national security."

Before sentencing, the soldiers' private lawyers pleaded for leniency, saying some of the defendants supported aged parents, others were the sole breadwinners in their family, and some of them had served in the army for 10 years, including in foreign peacekeeping missions.

Journalists who were barred from attending the trial were invited to hear the reading of the verdict and the sentencing, which are both subject to review by military authorities.

The judgment did not state what the soldiers said in their defence during the trial.

Boko Haramhas made huge gains in recent weeks, seizing a string of towns along the border with Cameroon where they have declared an Islamic caliphate under sharia law.