- (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
Several U.S. religious leaders as well as the White House have condemned the deadly bombings in 5 Nigerian churches over Christmas, joining international leaders and the Vatican.
The co-ordinated attacks were conducted Sunday by Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, and left 39 Christians, who were returning from mass, dead and many more injured after churches were targeted. At least 35 people were killed and many seriously injured in the bombing of St Theresa's Church in Madalla, near Nigeria's capital of Abuja.
In another bombing in a church in Jos, one other person has also reportedly been killed. Bombs also targeted churches in the cities of Kano, Damaturu and Gadaka, CNN reported.
Witnesses have described the carnage in which, in at least one case, those caught in the blast ran towards a priest with pleas to be blessed before they died. "It was really terrible. People ran towards me, (saying) 'Father anoint me,'" Father Christopher Barde has reported, according to AFP.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, condemned the attacks Sunday.
"We condemn the unconscionable and inexcusable attacks on Nigerian churches and offer sincere condolences to the loved ones of those killed or injured," the organization said in a statement. "Only a strong demonstration of interfaith unity will show those behind the attacks that they will never achieve their goal of dividing society along religious lines."
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has also condemned the attacks the same day.
"All people of goodwill, and especially all religious leaders of goodwill, should stand together in full solidarity with the victims and in unambiguous opposition to those who would kill and maim in the name of their own perverted faith," AJC Executive Director David Harris said in a statement.
"We pray for the full recovery of the injured and for the arrest and prosecution, to the full extent of the law in Nigeria, of those who planned and implemented these hate-filled, anti-Christian terrorist attacks," he added.
President of the New York Divinity School Dr. Paul de Vries told CP in a written statement the institution grieves the dead in unison and prays for the many others who were injured.
"There has been a tragic recent upsurge of Muslim violence against Christians in Nigeria, in spite of decades of coexistence," de Vries said. "We pray for strength and protection for our brothers and sisters in Christ--and for just leadership in the shared government of Nigeria."
The White House has condemned the bombings as "senseless." The White House Office of Press Secretary also said in a statement that the United States will assist Nigeria in bringing those responsible to justice.
"We offer our sincere condolences to the Nigerian people and especially those who lost family and loved ones," the statement reads.
International Christian Concern's (an advocacy group) regional manager for Africa, Jonathan Racho, told CP Monday the organization is outraged by the bombings, the more so, since it warned the international community about such possibility on Dec. 22.
"We are saddened that Boko Haram succeeded in killing our brothers and sisters," Racho said in a written statement to CP. "Nigeria must find ways to protect defenseless Christians from these attacks by Islamists."
The attacks happened after Nigerian Christian leaders specifically appealed for peace during the holidays in a series of addresses preceding the holiday.
“The rumor of possible attacks on Christians during this year's Christmas celebration is gaining more momentum," a Nigerian church leader said in a statement last week, as reported by ICC. "The Christians are calling on the government of Nigeria to ensure the protection of lives and properties, and we call on the church worldwide to bear up the church in Nigeria on the wings of prayer.”
Many religious leaders have united in calling for non-violence in all the countries with Muslim majorities, where Christians are known to have been persecuted in the past. Nigerian officials are now experiencing national and international scrutiny for not being able to match the challenge.
"This is clearly a failure of leadership at a time the government needs to assure the people of the capacity to guarantee the safety of lives and property," Muhammadu Buhari, the politician who lost the April presidential election to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan told Reuters. "How on earth would the Vatican and the British authorities speak before the Nigerian government on attacks within Nigeria that have led to the deaths of our citizens?"
In a statement issued late Sunday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called the bombings "a dastardly act that must attract the rebuke of all peace-loving Nigerians," CNN has reported.
"These acts of violence against innocent citizens are an unwarranted affront on our collective safety and freedom," Jonathan said. "Nigerians must stand as one to condemn them."
The Vatican said attacking a church was "blind hatred" seeking to "arouse and feed even more hatred and confusion.”
Meanwhile, the U.K. foreign secretary called the attacks "cowardly."
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” is a radical Islamist terrorism group. It has carried out consistent attacks on churches and state institutions over recent years. In August the terror group conducted a suicide attack on the United Nation’s HQ in Abuja, killing more than 20.
During last year's Christmas in Nigeria, 38 people were killed in bomb attacks on churches, and the same terror group has been suspected to stand behind the violence.