- (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
Christians have been targeted in a wave of bombings over the past 24 hours in Nigeria, killing at least 29 people in four separate attacks over Friday evening and Saturday morning.
Reports are describing hundreds fleeing Christian areas in north-east Nigeria in the latest wave of attacks on Christians by Islamist fundamentalist group Boko Haram.
The bombings come following a recent threat from Boko Haram, which issued a warning to Christians in Nigeria that they had three days to flee the north of the country or they would be slaughtered.
Nigeria is split between the mostly Islamic north region, and the majority Christian south. However, Boko Haram has given the death threat even though thousands of Christians were born and lived in the north all their lives. Recent sectarian attacks, coupled with the threat of more violence from the Islamic group, has led Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in Yobe and Borno states, as well as Plateau state in central Nigeria and Niger state in the west.
Boko Haram has increased its attacks against Christians over recent months in the hope of driving them out of the north to create a completely Muslim region. The group killed more than 500 people in 2011, of which a majroity were Christian, although the group also has focused its attacks on public locations and state-run bodies such as police stations.
Nigerian President Jonathan has vowed to take a hard-line to crack down on the Islamic group’s attacks, but has been criticized widely for not doing enough to protect the obviously vulnerable Christian communities in the north.
In the latest wave of attacks, at least 17 people died in Mubi, Adamawa when Boko Haram gunmen rushed into a town hall and opened fire on a Christian group holding a meeting there. Authorities are sure to be criticized for not providing more protection, as the Christian group were meeting together to discuss transportation and funeral plans of a local man shot dead by terrorist gunmen just on Thursday evening.
“It was while they were holding the meeting that gunmen came and opened fire on them,” a local resident has reported, according to the BBC.
A further 10 Christians were killed in a church attack in Yola, which is the capital of Adamawa.
Boko Haram has already announced that it carried out the attacks in Mubi and Yola, in addition to killing six earlier this week in Gombe.
Gunmen also opened fire on a bank, and on a police HQ in Potiskum, in Yobe state, but were fought back by security forces.
Boko Haram has warned that it is ready to confront soldiers sent to engage them under the state of emergency declared by Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan.
“We will confront them squarely to protect our brothers,” said Abul Qaqa, a spokesperson of Boko Haram.
He also called for Muslims living in southern Nigeria to come back to the north, citing evidence that they could be attacked.
President Jonathan has shut down borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger in the northeast in response to multiple violent attacks aimed at Christians in Nigeria, including a Christmas day attack that left 37 people dead and 57 wounded.
Boko Haram, which is reported to have ties with al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for the killings. In response President Jonathan has vowed to “crush” the group. He said they began as a harmless group, but has now grown cancerous.
Boko Haram, which means “Western civilization is forbidden,” wants an imposition of Islamic Shariah law across Nigeria.
David Cook, of Rice University, who has studied the rise of Boko Haram, has claimed that radical Muslim violence could take hold of the country and eventually spark a civil war in Nigeria, a top oil producer and Africa’s most populated nation.