Christmas Weekend Violence Kills 38 in Nigeria

Njadvara Musa, WXII-TV (Winston-Salem), December 26, 2010

Dozens of armed men attacked the church, dragging the pastor out of his home and shooting him to death. Two young men from the choir rehearsing for a late-night carol service also were slain.

The group of about 30 attackers armed with guns and knives even killed two people passing by Victory Baptist Church. The assailants only left after setting the church and pastor’s house ablaze.

Danjuma Akawu, the church’s secretary, managed to escape after he and others climbed over the church’s fence.

“I cannot understand these attacks,” Akawu said. “Why Christians? Why Christians? The police have failed to protect us.”

At the opposite end of the city, Rev. Haskanda Jessu said that three men attacked the Church of Christ in Nigeria an hour later, killing a 60-year-old security guard.

At least 38 people died in Christmas Eve attacks across Nigeria, including the six killed at churches in the country’s north by suspected members of a radical Muslim sect. In central Nigeria, 32 died in a series of bomb blasts in the worst violence to hit the region in months.

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The group blamed for the church attacks–the radical Muslim sect known as Boko Haram–used to be based in Bauchi, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the area where the bombs went off. The group is now headquartered in Maiduguri, where the church attacks took place.

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Nigeria, a country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. The blasts happened in central Nigeria, in the nation’s “middle belt,” where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands.

The violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands. The government of Plateau state, where Jos is the capital, is controlled by Christian politicians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens. That has locked many out of prized government jobs in a region where the tourism industry and tin mining have collapsed in the last decades.

{snip} Authorities, though, already have blamed the radical Muslim sect Boko Haram for the Christmas Eve church attacks.

The radical Muslim sect, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the Hausa language, was thought to be vanquished in 2009. Nigeria’s military crushed its mosque into concrete shards, and its leader was arrested and died in police custody.

But now, a year later, Maiduguri and surrounding villages again live in fear of the group, whose members have assassinated police and local leaders and engineered a massive prison break, officials say. {snip}

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