It took the U.S. government nearly four years to designate the Nigeria-based Boko Haram a terrorist group. Last Sunday, it took Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria less than four hours to invade a church, bar the doors, gun down Christians trying to escape, and burn the surrounding village. In some cases, the militants reportedly cut Christian’s throats.
The attack wasn’t isolated. During the same afternoon, militants attacked a market in a neighboring state, blowing up houses and killing more than 50 residents as they tried to run from terrorists wielding AK-47s. The militants burned more than 300 homes, many with residents inside.
The bloody Sunday brought Nigeria’s terror-related death toll to at least 200 in January alone. Militants committed to Boko Haram’s violent campaign to force an Islamist state in Nigeria have killed thousands in the last five years, including many Christians.
Two days after the Sunday attacks, the U.S. State Department issued a one-paragraph statement condemning the violence. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued only one statement about Nigeria during the country’s violent month of January: a condemnation of the country’s enactment of a same-sex marriage ban.
In expressing his concerns, Kerry noted the law also carries penalties for associating with gay groups and possible imprisonment for homosexual activity. But Kerry moved beyond criticizing the legislation to affirming homosexuality, saying Nigerians shouldn’t discriminate against citizens “for who they are. …” (Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used similar language during her tenure.)
While some aspects of the Nigeria law may be troubling, Kerry’s high-profile statement about the legislation during a bloody month of terror for hundreds of Christians and other Nigerians may seem troubling as well.
For the Christians refusing to denounce their faith, Boko Haram poses a constant, deadly threat based squarely on who they are.
That threat showed up in force last Sunday at a Roman Catholic Church in a village in northern Nigeria. Witnesses reported the events unfolded near the end of the morning worship service. Militants killed a police inspector and sergeant guarding the church, barred the doors, and shot worshipers trying to escape through windows. The group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that eyewitnesses said the terrorists arrived in trucks bearing AK-47s and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Local officials confirmed at least 30 dead.
Bishop Mamza Dami Stephen told the BBC the militants cut some parishioner’s throats and held others hostage while burning houses in the village. “Everyone is living in fear,” he said. “There is no protection. People can’t sleep with their eyes open.”
A similar scene unfolded in a village in Borno State on the same afternoon. Terrorists sped into a crowded market in vans and opened fire. They burned some 300 homes, many with residents inside. The next morning, the village rocked with explosions from IEDs the militants left behind.
Thousands of Nigerians have fled the country over the last two weeks. The UN refugee agency reported at least 6,000 people fled Boko Haram violence in northern Nigeria in a 10-day span this month. Most fled to neighboring Cameroon or Niger. The group reported more than 12,000 Nigerian refugees now living in Cameroon.
Orji Uzor Kalu—a former governor in the Nigerian state of Abia—wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal seven days before last Sunday’s attack, warning that the international community couldn’t ignore Boko Haram.
He described the group’s aim “to forge a militant Islamic state by any means necessary.” “This destabilizing network is a global problem, larger in scope and indeed in mission than the international community may presume,” he wrote. “It is not going away.”