- (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
A recent attack on an Islamic school in southern Nigeria Tuesday has some in the region concerned Christians are beginning to retaliate against Muslim terror sect Boko Haram, whose years-long persecution most recently culminated in widespread church attacks on Christmas Day.
Unidentified attackers threw jerry-built explosives into an Islamic school where 50 students were reportedly learning Arabic Tuesday night. Seven people were injured, including six students. No fatalities have been reported.
The Islamic school lies in Sapele – a predominantly Christian city in southern Nigeria. The country is split between Muslims, who occupy the north, and Christians who occupy the south.
Boko Haram has targeted Christian communities in the north in their quest to implement Shariah law throughout Nigeria. Violence in the south is rare, and locals are concerned the attack is a foreboding harbinger of war.
"Sapele just seems like the most unlikely place for a retaliatory attack to take place," local criminologist Innocent Chukwuma told The Associated Press. "But if it is, this would play right into Boko Haram, which has been looking to escalate the conflict to make the country ungovernable."
Escalated violence could lead to war – something officials fear could rip apart Africa’s most populous country.
Nigerian Christian organization Igbo Youths Movement (IYM) issued a statement warning of civil disunion as both sides grow weary and dissatisfied with the violence.
“Tempers are high in the south and among the Christian community in the north,” IYM President Elliott Ukoh said in a statement. “There are talks of reprisals and counter attacks thereby confirming the predictions by foreign powers in 2000 that Nigeria could disintegrate on or before 2015.”
The school bombing is dissimilar to typical Boko Haram attacks for two reasons: the terror sect has typically attacked targets in the north and tends to target churches, common areas and government buildings instead of schools.
It is questionable whether or not Boko Haram would attack one of the south’s few Islamic schools, although the sect has targeted Muslim organizations whose policies appear liberal or sympathetic to Western views – the sect’s name translates to “Western education is sacrilege.”
Boko Haram is also responsible for killing a Christian teacher in the north following indiscriminate gunfire in a public square two weeks ago.
One BBC report claimed some residents were blaming the violence on two rival Muslim groups in town. Sapele is a rich oil-producing town and violence between parties looking to gain more assets in the region is not unprecedented.
This school attack comes just days at least 39 people were killed in Christmas Day attacks on churches throughout Nigeria – a massacre for which Boko Haram has claimed responsibility. Reports Wednesday claim that more than 90,000 people have fled the city of Damaturu since the attacks.
Thousands more fled Yobe state in northeast Nigeria after Nov. 4 attacks by Boko Haram killed as many as 150 Christians.
Although the Nigerian government has increased security in major cities, President Goodluck Jonathan told foreign investors last month that Boko Haram presents only a “temporary problem.”