19 killed at Nigeria Bible study

2012-08-07 21:50
Nigeria violence victim. (Tony Collins, AP)

Nigeria violence victim. (Tony Collins, AP)

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Abuja - Three men came to the central Nigerian church just before Bible study began, but instead of joining the worship service they opened fire, killing at least 19 people in an attack that shows that violence already seen elsewhere in the divided nation is spreading.

Witnesses and the military described a chaotic, blood-soaked scene at the Deeper Life church in Otite, a quiet neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Okene, 250km southwest of Nigeria's capital Abuja.

Two gunmen sprayed the windowless sanctuary on Monday night with fire from Kalashnikov assault rifles, said  Gabriel Olorunyomi, the head of a local joint army and police unit. Another armed man stayed back and switched off the generator providing lights in the church, leaving those inside unable to flee as the gunfire flashed through the darkness, witness Lawan Saliu said.

Saliu spoke from a hospital bed on Tuesday after sustaining a gunshot wound to his stomach.

It remained unclear how many people were wounded in the attack. Olorunyomi said some of the injured sought care in hospitals, while others remained at home. A rescue official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as officials had yet to publicly release casualty numbers, said there probably were less than 20 people wounded in the attack.

Soldiers and police officers searched for gunmen through the night, but had made no arrests as of Tuesday afternoon, Kogi state police spokesperson Simon Ile said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack comes as Nigeria faces continuing attacks from a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's Muslim north, has attacked churches in the past. They have also attacked mosques.

Although they have not previously claimed responsibility for attacks on places of worship this far south, authorities have said they raided a bomb factory run by suspected sect members in Okene in April. They also blamed Boko Haram for a February prison break in the town of Koton-Karifi , also in Kogi state that freed 119 inmates.

That attack mirrored a massive prison break in the northeastern city of Bauchi in September 2010 when Boko Haram freed about 700 inmates.

The sect is blamed for more than 660 killings this year alone in Nigeria, according to an Associated Press count.

Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, is largely divided into a Muslim north and Christian south. While members of the two faiths often live and work together, as well as intermarry, Boko Haram attacks have increased religious tensions in the nation over the last year.

- AP
Read more on:    boko haram  |  nigeria  |  religion  |  west africa
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