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Nigeria's bad day

Africa | Tensions are high following Muslim-directed violence toward Christians in the northern part of the country

The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria continues to warn Americans about possible attacks in the country following the worst day of violence directed by the terrorist group Boko Haram that included attacks on at least seven churches and left more than 100 people dead. Violence between Muslims and Christians in the fractured state is not uncommon, but the threat of attacks directed at Americans, once rare, is now growing.

The violence in northern Nigeria began Nov. 3, when gunmen burst into a church in Tabak village, Kaduna State, as an evening prayer meeting drew to a close. Emmanuel Mallam, 32, a seminary student leading the service, said he had been teaching on the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper, when gunmen began firing on the congregation-mostly women and children-killing two and wounding at least 12, some of them critically, including one 8-year-old. On Nov. 4, the gunmen raided another village nearby, killing one Christian and injuring another, according to Compass Direct News.

That same day, militants hit two other northern states in a series of coordinated bomb and gun attacks that killed more than 150 people. Those included one suicide car bombing that targeted police headquarters in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State.

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Also in Damaturu, improvised bombs destroyed or damaged six churches in a neighborhood called Jerusalem. One local minister, according to the Barnabas Fund, said gangs of young men roamed the streets launching the bombs and burning down most churches, including his own. The attackers also targeted a military site, police housing, government buildings, and banks in Yobe and adjacent Borno State.

Boko Haram-an al-Qaeda affiliate that seeks an Islamic state in northern Nigeria and imposition of a stricter form of Sharia, or Islamic, law-claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened further violence. "We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop persecuting our members and vulnerable civilians," said Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa.

Yunusa Nmadu, secretary of the north's Kaduna State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, condemned the armed attack "on innocent Christian worshippers in the church," which took place, he said, despite the heavy presence of soldiers in the area.

Since the beginning of this year, according to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram has been implicated in attacks that have killed more than 425 people. Besides Christian pastors and church members, the terrorist group has killed police officers, soldiers, community leaders, politicians, and Islamic clerics, said the human rights monitoring group.

An August suicide car bomb attack on UN headquarters in Abuja, the nation's capital, killed 24 people and left more than 100 others injured. In northern Nigeria, tension has been high and security redoubled since an April rampage by Muslims protesting the election of President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, left hundreds dead, churches destroyed, and thousands displaced.

The most recent attacks on churches came just a week before Christians around the world will remember persecuted believers on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (Nov. 13).

Mallam, leader of the Tabak prayer service at the time of the Nov. 3 attack, told Compass Direct News that his church has suspended early morning and evening services for fear of another attack. "How can Christians be slaughtered in northern Nigeria and the government is unable to stop this carnage?" he asked.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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