- (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)
Northern Nigeria has become extremely dangerous for Christians with Islamist terror group Boko Haram's continual attacks on churches aimed at creating sectarian tensions. At least 19 people were killed on Sunday, after three churches were bombed leading to retaliatory attacks by Christian youth.
A suicide bomber drove a blue Honda Civic into Ecwa (Evangelical Church Winning All) Church in Zaria in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria and detonated the explosives. "Three people are confirmed killed. Others have been taken to hospital for treatment," Reuters quoted the church's pastor, Nathan Waziri, as saying.
Minutes later, another suicide bomber targeted Kings Catholic Church in the same town, killing 10 people. The Bishop of Zaria, George Dogo, was leading the Sunday mass when the bomb exploded.
Later the same day, a Toyota saloon hit Shalom Church in the state's main city of Kaduna, killing six people, including an army sergeant.
Some reports said more than 23 were killed in the three attacks, and number could further rise as some injured were said to be critical. The dead included women and children.
After the bombings, Christian youths reportedly disrupted the traffic on the Kaduna-Abuja highway and killed Muslim commuters. According to a witness, as many as 20 people might have been killed. Some local newspapers claimed that about 50 were killed in reprisal attacks.
Kaduna state governor Patrick Yakowa imposed a 24-hour curfew to calms the unrest.
Nigeria's Christian leaders have been encouraging churches and community members not to retaliate, but some have apparently run out of patience.
"It's high time for our people to revenge because most of the attack is purposely targeted on us, so I see no reason for us not to retaliate," Samuel Zakka, a Pentecostal Christian living in Zaria, told Christian Science Monitor. "Retaliation is the only solution for now because the government fails to address the insurgency caused by the terrorists."
While Boko Haram had not claimed responsibility for the attacks, locals suspect the bombers were men from the outfit.
Last Sunday, at least six people were killed and dozens were injured after a suicide bomber from Boko Haram detonated explosives outside a church in the central city of Jos, and gunmen from the same outfit opened fire at worshipers in another church in the northeastern city of Biu.
Boko Haram is attacking Christians in the north to incite sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians so that the outfit can press for the separation of the Muslim-majority north from the Christian-majority south, analysts believe.
The terror group also targets police stations and government buildings.
Boko Haram, which translates as "Western education is sin," has been blamed for killing hundreds of people this year.
The actual name of the group is Jama'atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda'wati wal jihad, which translates to "people for the propagation of the prophet's teachings and jihad." Mohammad Yusuf, the Islamist cleric who formed the group about a decade ago in Maiduguri city, was against Western education. Yusuf was from the Salafi movement, which has fueled jihadist terrorism in several parts of the world as a legitimate expression of Islam.
It is believed that Boko Haram has gained technical sophistication and weaponry with help from groups like al-Shabaab in southern Somalia and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The terror group, which also targets police and Muslim civilians, has warned that all Christians living in the north should move to the south unless they want to be killed.
Boko Haram's attacks escalated and Christians became one of the primary targets after the victory of President Jonathan, a Christian from the south and a leader of the People's Democratic Party, in the April 2011 election.