Nigeria Christians hit by fresh Islamist attacks

Burning car outside St Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla outside Abuja (25 Dec 2012) A attack on a church outside Abuja killed 37 people on Christmas Day

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Nigeria has been hit by a fresh wave of violence apparently targeting the country's Christian communities.

At least 17 people were killed in Mubi in Adamawa state as gunmen opened fire in a town hall where members of the Christian Igbo group were meeting.

There were also reports of a deadly attack in Adamawa's capital, Yola.

The Islamist Boko Haram group said it had carried out the attack in Mubi and another in Gombe on Thursday night in which at least six people died.

The group has staged numerous attacks in northern and central areas in recent months - on Christmas Day it attacked a church near the capital, Abuja, killing dozens of people.

One Boko Haram faction has warned all southerners - who are mostly Christian and animist - to leave the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria.

Adamawa state borders Borno state, where Boko Haram emerged.

Last week President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Yobe and Borno states, as well as Plateau state in central Nigeria and Niger state in the west, following a surge in ethnic and sectarian violence.

But the pace of attacks has increased and he must now consider whether to extend the state of emergency into other states and beef up the military presence in the north in response, says the BBC's Mark Lobel in Lagos.

Meanwhile, the government is also facing the bleak prospect of a general strike in two days' time amid popular fury over its removal of a fuel subsidy which has seen fuel prices double for ordinary Nigerians.

'Planning to flee'

Boko Haram: Timeline of terror

  • 2002: Founded
  • 2009: Hundreds killed when Maiduguri police stations stormed
  • 2009: Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf captured by army, handed to police, later found dead
  • Sep 2010: Freed hundreds of prisoners from jail
  • Dec 2010: Bombed Jos, killing 80 people and blamed for New Year's Eve attack on Abuja barracks
  • 2010-2011: Dozens killed in Maiduguri shootings
  • May 2011: Bombed several states after president's inauguration
  • Jun 2011: Police HQ bombed in Abuja
  • Aug 2011: UN HQ bombed in Abuja
  • Nov 2011: Co-ordinated bomb and gun attacks in Yobe and Borno states
  • Dec 2011: Multiple bomb attacks on Christmas Day kill dozens

Residents told the BBC that those killed in Mubi belonged to the Igbo community from the south of the country.

They had been meeting to organise how to transport the body of an Igbo man who was shot dead by gunmen on motorbikes on Thursday evening.

"It was while they were holding the meeting that gunmen came and opened fire on them," a resident said.

Witnesses said gunmen burst into the hall and shouted "God is great" as they opened fire.

Members of the Igbo community in northern Nigeria often own shops and businesses, but the BBC's Abdullahi Tasiu in Yola says many Igbo traders in Mubi town are reported to have closed their shops and be planning to flee the area.

'Extending out frontiers'

Later, a man claiming to be a spokesman for Boko Haram told local media the group had carried out both the Mubi and Gombe attacks.

"We are extending our frontiers to other places to show that the declaration of a state of emergency by the Nigerian government will not deter us. We can really go to wherever we want to go," said Abul Qaqa.

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He said the attacks were "part of our response to the ultimatum we gave to southerners to leave the north" and called on the government to release all Boko Haram prisoners.

Later on Friday, there were reports that eight people had been killed in another attack on a church in Yola.

"Some gunmen went into the church and opened fire on worshippers killing some people and wounding several others," a local journalist told the AFP news agency.

A source at the local hospital told AFP that between eight and 10 bodies had been taken there.

Police have also been engaged in a gun battle with suspected members of Boko Haram in another north-eastern city, Potiskum, in Yobe state.

"Gunmen who are, from all indications, members of Boko Haram came in large numbers and have encircled police headquarters. They chanted 'Allahu Akbar' [God is Great] and fired indiscriminately," a resident told AFP.

Boko Haram, whose name means 'Western education is forbidden', is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state

More than 500 people have been killed by the group over the past year. On Christmas Day, it carried out a string of church bombings which killed 37 people at one church outside the capital, Abuja, alone.

President Jonathan, who is a Christian, has vowed to crack down on the group but Christian groups have accused him of not doing enough to protect them.

Nigeria: A nation divided

To win at the first round, a candidate not only needs the majority of votes cast, but at least 25% of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria's 36 states. Goodluck Jonathan, of the PDP, reached that threshold in 31 states; runner-up Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC only did so in 16 states.

Nigeria's 160 million people are divided between numerous ethno-linguistic groups and also along religious lines. Broadly, the Hausa-Fulani people based in the north are mostly Muslims. The Yorubas of the south-west are divided between Muslims and Christians, while the Igbos of the south-east and neighbouring groups are mostly Christian or animist. The Middle Belt is home to hundreds of groups with different beliefs, and around Jos there are frequent clashes between Hausa-speaking Muslims and Christian members of the Berom community.

Despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world, according to the UN. The poverty in the north is in stark contrast to the more developed southern states. While in the oil-rich south-east, the residents of Delta and Akwa Ibom complain that all the wealth they generate flows up the pipeline to Abuja and Lagos.

Southern residents tend to have better access to healthcare, as reflected by the greater uptake of vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Some northern groups have in the past boycotted immunisation programmes, saying they are a Western plot to make Muslim women infertile. This led to a recurrence of polio, but the vaccinations have now resumed.

Female literacy is seen as the key to raising living standards for the next generation. For example, a newborn child is far likelier to survive if its mother is well-educated. In Nigeria we see a stark contrast between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. In some northern states less than 5% of women can read and write, whereas in some Igbo areas more than 90% are literate.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and among the biggest in the world but most of its people subsist on less than $2 a day. The oil is produced in the south-east and some militant groups there want to keep a greater share of the wealth which comes from under their feet. Attacks by militants on oil installations led to a sharp fall in Nigeria's output during the last decade. But in 2010, a government amnesty led thousands of fighters to lay down their weapons.

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