Christmas attacks - fear grips Nigeria

2011-12-26 20:16

Abuja - Fear gripped Nigeria on Monday after a wave of Christmas bombings blamed on Islamists killed at least 40, including worshippers who were left begging for mercy and burning to death as they exited a church.

Hundreds of residents sought to flee the violence-torn city of Damaturu on Monday fearing further attacks and clashes between Islamists and police, while some 30 Christian shops were burnt in the nearby city of Potiskum late on Sunday.

Nigeria has seen scores of attacks claimed by Islamist group Boko Haram, but some analysts said the bombings marked a dangerous escalation in a country divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

The government in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and its largest oil producer, blamed Islamist sect Boko Haram for three attacks on Sunday.

They included bomb explosions at two churches - the deadliest as Christmas mass ended near the capital Abuja - and a suicide attack in the northeast.

A third church was targeted in the northeast on Christmas Eve, but no one was reported killed. Residents reported another explosion near a church in the northeastern city of Maiduguri late on Sunday, but an army spokesperson denied it.

The attack at St Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla outside Abuja killed at least 35 and left a gruesome scene, with rescuers picking up body parts and putting them in plastic bags while emergency workers pleaded for ambulances.

It struck as the service was ending and worshippers were filing out of the church.

Burnt in cars

Some of the wounded, including one man whose entrails protruded from his body, ran toward a priest for final blessings. Some burnt in their cars as they sought to leave.

The attacks drew widespread condemnation, including from the Vatican, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, the United States and Britain.

"I wish to express my solidarity with those who have been hit by this absurd act," Pope Benedict XVI told a crowd gathered for his Angelus prayer, adding that he was "deeply saddened" by the attacks.

Authorities pledged to bring the attackers to justice, but the government has so far been unable to stop the Islamists, whose attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated and deadly.

President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the violence and his national security adviser called it "unnecessary blood-letting by a group whose objectives are not in consonance with any genuine religious tenants."

While the government blamed Boko Haram and a purported spokesperson for the sect claimed responsibility for the violence, conflicting accounts emerged.

A spokesperson for police in Niger state, where Madalla is located, said on Monday that authorities had not yet determined who was behind the attack.

"We are looking beyond Boko Haram because other people bent on destabilising the government might be doing these things in the name of Boko Haram," said Richard Oguche.

Describing the bombing, National Security Adviser Owoye Azazi said attackers threw improvised explosive devices from a moving vehicle in Madalla, adding that "two of the criminals had been apprehended, caught in action".

Nowhere to stay

Oguche said no one was arrested and the blast occurred after a minibus pulled up near the church. He added that three police officers were among those killed.

In the central city of Jos, a church was targeted and a policeman was killed in a resulting shoot-out.

A suicide blast also occurred in the restive northeastern city of Damaturu when the bomber sought to ram into a military convoy in front of a secret police office, killing himself and three security agents.

In Damaturu on Monday, hundreds of residents sought to flee, lining up at taxi and bus stands amid momentary calm.

"I have nowhere to stay," said a 42-year-old trader with his wife and three young children as he waited along the roadside.

"The situation in the city is frightening. You never can tell where will be the next target. My house was burnt in the attacks."

In the nearby city of Potiskum, residents and a police source said about 30 Christian shops burned on Sunday night, while a supermarket and the home of a local Christian leader were also set ablaze.

Some worried the attacks could set off a new round of sectarian clashes in Nigeria.

"The attack on churches is to nationalise the crisis," said Shehu Sani, a rights activist based in Nigeria's north.

"It will instigate hitherto neutral people into the crisis. Christians may want to take revenge on Muslims and this is dangerous for the country."

There has been intense speculation over whether Boko Haram has links with outside extremist groups, including al-Qaeda's north African branch.

  • Clifton - 2011-12-26 21:11

    Strange. The Pope decries witchcraft in Africa and Nigerian Christians start burning accused witches (slowly) to death. The video is horrific. I searched, but could find no official outcry. But some Christians get killed, and all of the sudden it is terrible. Yes it is, as is any other murder. Murder in the name of religion just makes it sicker.

      Neville - 2011-12-26 21:48

      There is a group of people killing in the name of God , i think their prophet look down in shame, he was a true leader

  • Michael McN - 2011-12-26 22:01

    I believe if you check the tape, President Jonathan's national security adviser condemned the attackers for working to advance beliefs that are not mainstream religious "tenets," not "tenants." Who cares what pious apartment dwellers believe?

  • Gulzar - 2011-12-26 22:48

    The Pope and all other world leaders are complicit in allowing such atrocities to carry on in the name of religion. People have turned into monsters....mad dogs..and no one to protect the innocent. In the name of God..has become an obscene reason to kill. And where is God? the answer I will get is for sure.."Dont blame God..blame men...They have free if those who are killed had free will..bah!

  • sewesha - 2011-12-27 09:49

    Really if the Muslim people are worshiping God whom they call Allah, they should also leave the Christian to follow their Lord Jesus. Seeminly the Muslims have no mercy or they are not kind to the children of God. So they should stop these killings of children of God. i beg them in the name of Allah. Otherwise Allah will be angry on them and will kill each one of them.

      Riaad - 2011-12-27 12:19

      Sewesha, don't make the fatal mistake of blaming the whole 1.3 Billion Muslim World community for the actions of a few Nigerian extremists. Study the Qur'an in its proper context and then make a personal decision about Islam. I have absolutely no problem with your decision to worship Jesus Christ (Pbuh). However, it is in contradiction with the First Commandment as I believe that Jesus (Pbuh) was a great Prophet of Allah and not part of a 'Trinity' - a word not even in the Bible. Never will we ever condone the killing of innocents - esp. while they are praying in a Church, of all things! Allah will punish 'Boko Haram' for this evil and sick deed.The Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) openly forbade the targeting of places of worship, even in times of war. Jihaad means fighting against "those who fight you", according to the Qur'an. Terrorism is not Jihaad. Jihaad is self-defence. Terrorism is evil.

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