JOS, Nigeria, Monday
At least six Muslim youths were killed by angry Christian mobs after two churches in Nigeria were attacked at the weekend, local media reported on Monday.
A suicide bomber attacked a church in Jos, a main city which sits along the fault line between the Muslim and Christian parts of the country.
Separately, gunmen sprayed bullets at a church in Biu, in Borno state. The area serves as the headquarters for Islamist group Boko Haram, widely suspected of being behind a spate of recent attacks against the government and Christians.
Several people were killed in the church attacks while dozens were injured. Police have not yet made any arrests, the local Guardian newspaper reported.
The Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Ben Kwashi, told the BBC that he condemned the church attacks and the acts of revenge. He said such “terrorism” was ruining relations between the two largest religious groups in Africa’s most populous nation.
The assaults were the latest in a series targeting churches in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, with many of the previous attacks also claimed by the Islamist group, whose insurgency has killed more than 1,000 people since mid-2009.
A purported spokesman for Boko Haram claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks and threatened further violence.
“We are responsible for the suicide attack on a church in Jos and also another attack on another church in Biu,” the spokesman calling himself Abul Qaqa told reporters in the northeastern city of Maiduguri in a phone conference.
“We launched these attacks to prove the Nigerian security wrong and to debunk their claim that we have been weakened by the military crackdown,” he said, speaking in the Hausa language common throughout Nigeria’s north.
“The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of the secular state.”
The attacks took place at evangelical churches in the central city of Jos and the northeastern town of Biu, both of which have been hit before by violence blamed on Boko Haram.
“The suicide bomber did not drive into the church before the explosion. He was in front of it,” police spokesman Abuh Emmanuel said of the Jos attack.
“The church building collapsed entirely due to the intensity of the bombing.” Local government spokesman Pam Ayuba told AFP that two people plus the bomber died and 41 were wounded.
“A reporter at the scene said angry Christian youths assaulted local Muslims after the bombing. The second attack killed at least one person and wounded several when gunmen opened fire during a service in Biu, Samson Bukar, the local Christian Association of Nigeria chairman, told AFP.
“One female worshipper was killed while several others were wounded, two of them critically. The gunmen escaped after the attack,” Bukar said. Italy’s International Cooperation Minister Andrea Riccardi condemned the attack and called for international action to stop Boko Haram.
“Christian blood has again been spilt in Nigeria according to a now clear plan of ethnic and religious cleansing,” said Mr Riccardi, who is also the founder of a Catholic charity active in Africa.
“The international community can no longer look on at this massacre of innocent people without intervening.” Boko Haram’s , spreading from their base in the northeast across the wider north and down to the capital Abuja, in the centre of the country.
It claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja in August that killed at least 25 people and a suicide attack on the Abuja office of one of the country’s most prominent newspapers.
Its deadliest attack yet occurred in the northern city of Kano in January, when at least 185 people died in coordinated bombings and shootings. Boko Haram also claimed a bomb attack at a church near the capital on Christmas day that killed at least 44 people.