Nigerians Still Worried About More Church Attacks

Nigeria bombingsWomen returned to clean the blood from St.
Theresa Catholic Church on Monday and one man wept uncontrollably amid
its debris as a Nigerian Christian association demanded protection for
its churches.


At least 35 people
died at St. Theresa and dozens more were wounded as radical Muslim
militants launched coordinated attacks across Africa’s most populous
nation within hours of one another. Four more people were killed in
other violence blamed on the group known as Boko Haram.

Crowds
gathered among the burned-out cars in the church’s dirt parking lot
Monday, angry over the attack and fearful that the group will target
more of their places of worship.

It was the
second year in a row that the extremists seeking to install Islamic
Shariah law across the country of 160 million staged such attacks. Last
year, a series of bombings on Christmas Eve killed 32 people in Nigeria.

Rev.
Father Christopher Jataudarde told The Associated Press that Sunday’s
blast happened as church officials gave parishioners white powder as
part of a tradition celebrating the birth of Christ. Some already had
left the church at the time of the bombing, causing the massive
casualties.

In the ensuing chaos, a mortally
wounded man had cradled his wounded stomach and begged a priest for
religious atonement. “Father, pray for me. I will not survive,” he said.

At
least 52 people were wounded in the blast, said Slaku Luguard, a
coordinator with Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency. Victims
filled the cement floors of a nearby government hospital, some crying
in pools of their own blood.

Pope Benedict XVI
denounced the bombing at his post-Christmas blessing Monday, urging
people to pray for the victims and Nigeria’s Christian community.

“In
this moment, I want to repeat once again with force: Violence is a path
that leads only to pain, destruction and death. Respect, reconciliation
and love are the only path to peace,” he said.

The
U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks “in the strongest terms”
and called for the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors “of
these reprehensible acts” to be brought to justice.

The African Union also condemned the attacks and pledged to support Nigeria in its fight against terrorism.

“Boko
Haram’s continued acts of terror and cruelty and absolute disregard for
human life cannot be justified by any religion or faith,” said a
statement attributed to AU commission chairman Jean Ping.

On
Sunday, a bomb also exploded amid gunfire in the central Nigeria city
of Jos and a suicide car bomber attacked the military in the nation’s
northeast. Three people died in those assaults.

After
the bombings, a Boko Haram spokesman using the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa
claimed responsibility for the attacks in an interview with The Daily
Trust, the newspaper of record across Nigeria’s Muslim north. The sect
has used the newspaper in the past to communicate with the public.

“There
will never be peace until our demands are met,” the newspaper quoted
the spokesman as saying. “We want all our brothers who have been
incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the Sharia
system and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended.”

Boko
Haram has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in
its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria. The group,
whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa
language, is responsible for at least 504 killings this year alone,
according to an Associated Press count.

Last
year, a series of Christmas Eve bombings in Jos claimed by the militants
left at least 32 dead and 74 wounded. The group also claimed
responsibility for the Aug. 26 bombing of the United Nations
headquarters in Nigeria’s capital Abuja that killed 24 people and
wounded 116 others.

While initially targeting
enemies via hit-and-run assassinations from the back of motorbikes after
the 2009 riot, violence by Boko Haram now has a new sophistication and
apparent planning that includes high-profile attacks with greater
casualties.

That has fueled speculation about
the group’s ties as it has splintered into at least three different
factions, diplomats and security sources say. They say the more extreme
wing of the sect maintains contact with terror groups in North Africa
and Somalia.

Targeting Boko Haram has remained
difficult, as sect members are scattered throughout northern Nigeria
and the nearby countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Analysts
say political considerations also likely have played a part in the
country’s thus-far muted response: President Goodluck Jonathan, a
Christian from the south, may be hesitant to use force in the nation’s
predominantly Muslim north.

Speaking late Sunday at a prayer service, Jonathan described the bombing as an “ugly incident.”

“There
is no reason for these kind of dastardly acts,” the president said in a
ceremony aired by the state-run Nigerian Television Authority. “It’s
one of the burdens as a nation we have to carry. We believe it will not
last forever.”

However, others don’t remain as
sure as the president. The northern state section of the powerful
Christian Association of Nigeria issued a statement late Monday night
demanding government protection for its churches, warning that “the
situation may degenerate to a religious war.”

“We
shall henceforth in the midst of these provocations and wanton
destruction of innocent lives and property be compelled to make our own
efforts and arrangements to protect the lives of innocent Christians and
peace loving citizens of this country,” the statement read.

“We are therefore calling on all Christians to be law abiding but defend themselves whenever the need arises.”

Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria and can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Garba in Kano, Nigeria and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.

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