A church gathering in northeastern Nigeria turned deadly Thursday evening, as gunmen attacked Deeper Life Church in the country's Gombe State, killing six and wounding several others. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)-a Christian advocacy group with workers in Nigeria-reported on the raid and said the dead included the pastor's wife.
The attack came one day after a Nigerian terrorist group's deadline for Christians expired: A purported spokesman for Boko Haram-an Islamic extremist group responsible for widespread attacks in Nigeria-had demanded on Monday that Christians living in the predominantly Muslim north leave the region by Wednesday. On Wednesday evening, CSW reported that suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked a Christian compound in the northern Yobe State, killing two.
The ultimatum came one week after Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a series of Christmas Day attacks in Nigeria that killed at least 41 people. The deadliest bombing at St Theresa's Catholic Church in Madalla killed at least 37 parishioners who were leaving a Christmas Day Mass at the packed church. Some burned to death in their cars, and Catholic priest Christopher Barde told AFP that other badly wounded victims pleaded for blessings: "Some people ran toward me, saying, 'Father, anoint me.'"
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency, ordering more soldiers to some northern states, and temporarily closing parts of the country's border with Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The president vowed to "crush" Boko Haram, saying the group was a cancer: "Nigeria being the body, they want to kill it."
Nigerian security forces said they had already arrested dozens of "foot soldiers" connected with Boko Haram since last week, and told northern Christians to not fear the purported deadline for leaving the region. John Onaiyekan, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, urged his fellow citizens to ignore the group's threat, saying that Boko Haram doesn't speak for all Muslims in the country. The archbishop said that many Muslims had condemned the recent attacks and expressed condolences.
But Boko Haram-which claimed responsibility for an August attack at the UN headquarters in Abuja that killed 23 and was behind a series of violent attacks in early November that left more than 100 people dead (see "Nigeria's bad day," by Mindy Belz, Nov. 10, 2011)-remains a severe threat. CSW reported that Christians in northern Nigeria are sharing unconfirmed reports that the terror group plans to change its tactics to circumvent heightened security, including attacking homes at night.
CSW reported that many Christians say they won't flee because they have no place to go, and quoted one local: "We have farmlands, houses, and everything here. Our great, great, great grandparents were born here … yet we are being left with the choice of relocating to a safer area until things improve, or staying here to die."