DAMATURU, Nigeria – They stormed this town in Yobe state, northern Nigeria like a swarm of bees, and at the end of their four-hour rampage, some 150 people had been killed – at least 130 of them Christians, according to church sources.
Hundreds of people are still missing, and the destruction included the bombing of at least 10 church buildings.
More than 200 members of the Islamic extremist Boko Haram sect stormed the Yobe state capital, Damaturu, at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4, and soon the terrorists had blocked all four major highways leading into town. Some of them charged the police headquarters, commando style, killing all officers on duty, while the rest broke into two banks – First Bank Nigeria PLC and United Bank for Africa, stealing millions of naira. Boko Haram also bombed police stations and an army base in and around Damaturu.
Having successfully dislodged security agencies after a series of gun battles and the detonation of explosives, the terrorists then led other area Muslims to the only Christian ward in town, New Jerusalem in Damaturu, home to more than 15,000 Christians, church leaders said.
The Christian leaders in Damaturu told Compass that out of the 150 casualties reported in the Yobe attacks, more than 130 were Christians. When the Muslim extremists went to New Jerusalem, they said, any Christian they met who could not recite the Islamic creed was instantly shot and killed or slaughtered like a lamb.
The Rev. Idris Garba, the 41-year-old chairman of the Yobe state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Compass the attack “is a Jihad against the church.”
“When Boko Haram members and other Muslims here attacked us on that 4th of November, it was like the end had come for Christians in this settlement,” Garba said. “Bullets were fired indiscriminately into our houses. I and my family locked ourselves in my house. Bullets were dropping on rooftops like ice blocks from a rainstorm. The trauma my 10-year-old son had as a result of sounds from guns and explosions has not left him, as he has refused to eat ever since the attack.”
Garba, who also pastors the ECWA Good News Church in the New Jerusalem area of Damaturu, said his 500-member church has dwindled.
“We could not have had more than 100 worshipers on the Sunday after the attack,” he said. “Most Christians are either missing or have left the town.”
Garba, who has been in pastoral ministry since 1993 and has served as a pastor of the New Jerusalem fellowship church for two years, said two Christians were slaughtered in front of his church building the day before it was bombed.
“You can see the blood is still at the spot where these two Christians were killed,” Garba said.
Another Christian, he said, was slaughtered in front of the worship auditorium of the African Mission Centre.
Garba said the casualty figure in this attack could be more than 200, as many Christians are still unaccounted for.
“The fact that hundreds of Christians have left town, and some are still leaving even as I am talking to you now, has made it difficult for us to account for the actual figure of our members that have been killed,” he told Compass. “The proof that many more than the figure being peddled by the government must have been killed is that we were at the morgue and we found that corpses filled up every available space, so much so that we could not count the corpses. In fact, corpses had to be left outside the morgue for lack of space inside.”
Boko Haram bombed and destroyed 10 church buildings: those of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Church of the Brethren, Cherubim and Seraphim Church, All Saints Cathedral (Anglican Communion), and Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), African Mission Centre, Assemblies of God Church, ECWA Good News Church, Living Faith Church, and Charismatic Renewal Ministries.
They burned 11 cars and stole two others after killing the Christian owners. In addition, seven motorcycles and one bicycle were destroyed.
Bomb blasts the previous day (Nov. 3) in Maiduguri, Borno state about 80 miles (130 kilometers) east killed four people, with one of the explosions coming from a triple suicide bombing of a military base.
Asked about Muslims who were killed, Garba said they died in gunfire exchange between Boko Haram militants and security agencies.
“These Muslims were visitors who were passing through Damaturu at the time of the attack and were caught in the crossfire,” he said.
Pastor Emmanuel Ekigho, resident pastor of the Living Faith Church also in the New Jerusalem area, told Compass that the Boko Haram bombing left his worship auditorium completely charred.
“We lost our church auditorium and assets in the church worth over 70 million naira [US$43,742],” Ekigho said.
The Sunday after the attack, only 214 of the 700 members showed up for worship, he said.
“As I talk to you now, many more out of the 200 members have left the town,” Ekigho said. “This may be bringing our ministry here to an end.”
Since the Damarutu attack, no state or federal government official has visited the area to see the level of destruction done to Christians and their churches, church leaders said. Their attempts to enter into dialogue with the emir of Damaturu, Alhaji Shehu Ibn El-kanemi Hashimi II, proved abortive as he refused to meet with them, they said.
“We sought audience with him on Nov. 7 in order to present our plight to him and seek support and protection from him, but he declined to see us,” Garba said. “So, we left his palace without meeting him.”
An al Qaeda affiliate that seeks to impose a stricter form of sharia (Islamic law) on northern Nigeria, where sharia is already in force, as well as on the predominantly Christian south, Boko Haram has threatened to launch more attacks.
“We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop their excesses on our members and vulnerable civilians,” a Boko Haram spokesman said.
In August, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital, which killed 24 people and left another 116 wounded.
Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent of the population and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.