Violence between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria is not uncommon, but the threat of attacks directed at Americans, once rare, is now growing.
The most recent round of violence began Nov. 3 when gunmen burst into a church in Tabak village in Nigeria's Kaduna state as an evening prayer meeting drew to a close. Emmanuel Mallam, 32, a seminary student leading the service, said he had been teaching on the Lord's Supper when gunmen began firing on the congregation -- mostly women and children -- killing two and wounding at least 12, some of them critically, including one 8-year-old. On Nov. 4, the gunmen raided another village nearby, killing one Christian and injuring another, according to Compass Direct News.
That same day, militants hit two other northern states in a series of coordinated bomb and gun attacks. Those included one suicide car bombing that targeted police headquarters in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State.
Also in Damaturu, improvised bombs destroyed or damaged six churches in a neighborhood called Jerusalem. One local minister, according to the Barnabas Fund, said gangs of young men roamed the streets launching the bombs and burning down most churches, including his own. The attackers also targeted a military site, police housing, government buildings and banks in Yobe and adjacent Borno state.
Boko Haram -- an al-Qaida affiliate that seeks an Islamic state in northern Nigeria and imposition of a stricter form of sharia, or Islamic, law -- claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened further violence. "We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop persecuting our members and vulnerable civilians," Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa said.
Yunusa Nmadu, secretary of the north Kaduna state's chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, condemned the armed attack "on innocent Christian worshippers in the church" which took place, he said, despite the heavy presence of soldiers in the Tabak area.
Since the beginning of this year, according to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has been implicated in attacks in which more than 425 people have been killed. Besides Christian pastors and church members, the terrorist group has killed police officers, soldiers, community leaders, politicians and Islamic clerics, the human rights monitoring group said.
An August suicide car bomb attack on U.N. headquarters in Abuja, the nation's capital, killed 24 people and left more than 100 others injured. In northern Nigeria, tension has been high and security redoubled since an April rampage by Muslims protesting the election of President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, left hundreds dead, churches destroyed and thousands displaced.
The most recent attacks on churches came just a week before Christians around the world will remember persecuted believers on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Nov. 13).
Mallam, leader of the Tabak prayer service at the time of the Nov. 3 attack, told Compass Direct News that his church has suspended early morning and evening services for fear of another attack. "How can Christians be slaughtered in northern Nigeria and the government is unable to stop this carnage?" he asked.
Mindy Belz is editor of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com), based in Asheville, N.C. The article first appeared in World News Service. Used by permission.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net