Gunmen kill 6 at church

2012-01-06 11:10

Gunmen have opened fire on worshippers as their eyes were closed in prayer at a Nigerian church, killing six in the latest sectarian attack in Africa’s most populous nation.

The attack on the outskirts of the northeastern city of Gombe comes after an ultimatum issued Sunday by a purported spokesperson for Islamist group Boko Haram for Christians to leave the country’s mainly Muslim north within three days.

There was however no claim of responsibility for the attack last night at the Deeper Life Christian Ministry Church. Police said an investigation was ongoing and declined to say whether Boko Haram was suspected.

Church pastor John Jauro said confusion broke out when the gunmen opened fire and that his wife was among the dead. The number of attackers was not clear.

“It was around 7.30 pm,” Jauro said. “I was leading the congregation in prayers. Our eyes were closed when some gunmen stormed the church and opened fire on the congregation.

“Six people were killed in the attack and 10 others were wounded.”

Gombe police spokesperson Ahmed Mohammed confirmed the attack and death toll, but said the gunmen had fled by the time authorities arrived at the church.

A hospital source said four of the victims were dead on arrival while the other two died later. The injured sustained serious gunshot wounds, the source said.

The attack comes amid intensifying concerns over a recent flare-up in sectarian violence in Nigeria, whose 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

While Boko Haram has been blamed for increasingly deadly attacks for months, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed 25, the violence has taken on a different dimension with recent church attacks.

A wave of Christmas bombings that killed 49 people, most of them outside of a Catholic church as services were ending, led to intense fear and outrage in Africa’s largest oil producer.

There have been fears of reprisals from Christians, and Christian leaders have warned they will defend themselves if attacks against them continue.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on December 31 in parts of four states hard hit by violence blamed on Boko Haram, but there has been no halt to the attacks. Gombe is outside of the areas included in the state of emergency.

On Wednesday night, bomb blasts hit two northeastern cities that are included in the emergency declaration.

No casualties were reported after the bomb attacks in Maiduguri and Damaturu, claimed by the same purported spokesperson for Boko Haram who issued the ultimatum to Christians.

One of the bombs in Maiduguri, Boko Haram’s stronghold, destroyed a house near a customs barracks, according to a customs source and resident. The Damaturu blast occurred at an open-air pub.

Two civilians were shot dead on the outskirts of Damaturu in a separate incident, a hospital source said.

In the first attack since the state of emergency was declared, but just outside the areas covered by the decree, gunmen attacked a police station in the northern Jigawa state Tuesday, killing a teenage girl and wounding an officer.

Boko Haram is a shadowy group believed to have a number of factions with differing aims, including those with political links and a hard-core Islamist faction.

It launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault which left some 800 people dead.

Since the group re-emerged in 2010, it has been blamed for increasingly sophisticated and deadly attacks, including suicide bombings, and its structure and aims have become far less clear.

Speculation has ranged from whether the group is seeking to foment religious conflict to if elements of it have been co-opted for political aims.

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