Church attacks fuel fears of sectarian violence
A series of Christmas Eve church attacks in Nigeria have left at least 32 people dead as authorities worked Saturday to prevent a new wave of religious violence. Observers have warned of an increase in violence as April elections approach.
AFP - A series of Christmas Eve church attacks and explosions have left at least 32 people dead in Nigeria as authorities worked Saturday to prevent a new wave of religious violence.
The situation was especially tense in the central city of Jos, where explosions on Friday evening left at least eight people dead. The region has been previously hit by sectarian unrest that has killed hundreds this year.
In the city of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria, suspected members of an Islamist sect that launched an uprising last year attacked three churches, leaving six people dead and one of the churches burnt, an army spokesman said.
There was no immediate indication the incidents in the vast country's north and central regions were linked.
Police sought to calm the situation in Jos as some residents reported that a gang of youths had barricaded a road leading to an area where one blast occurred and had set about five vehicles ablaze.
"The situation is tense now and we just want to pacify the people," state police spokesman Mohammed Lerama told AFP, refusing to comment further.
A national police spokesman has said at least eight people were killed in an explosion on Friday night in Jos, but the state information commissioner and residents have reported several blasts.
The commissioner, Gregory Yenlong, also reported some 20 dead, but police cast doubt on the information.
Police say they have not determined the cause, but Yenlong said there had been rumours of attacks aimed at disrupting Christmas celebrations in recent days.
Local media attributed the explosions to bombs and death tolls varied widely.
Jos is in the so-called middle-belt region between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south and has long been a hotspot of ethnic and religious friction in Nigeria.
Local rights groups say 1,500 people have died in inter-communal violence in the Jos region this year alone.
Many observers say the violence has resulted from politicians stoking ethnic divisions in a local struggle for power.
The Maiduguri attacks in the north were the latest violence blamed on the sect known as Boko Haram, behind an uprising last year that ended with a police and military assault which left hundreds dead.
Sect members have been blamed for a series of attacks in recent months, including shootings of police officers and community leaders as well as raids on police posts and a prison.
"In an attack on a Baptist church in Alamderi area, five worshippers including a pastor of the church were killed by gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram," Lieutenant Abubakar Abdullahi said.
In another area of the city, a security guard was killed when suspected sect members attacked another church, he said.
Soldiers managed to repel a third attack on a church in Maiduguri, with no one reported killed in that incident.
He said the Baptist church was burnt down, along with the house of the pastor next to it.
Nigeria will hold elections in April and observers have warned of an increase in violence as the polls approach.
In addition to violence in the Jos region and in the north, militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta have carried out scores of attacks in recent years, including kidnappings of foreign oil workers and sabotage of pipelines.
Nigeria is Africa's most populous country with 150 million people and one of the world's largest oil producers.