Suspected Islamic militants bombed worshipers at three Christian churches on Sunday in northern Nigeria, killing some 23 people. Frustrated with the government’s inability to stop a string of such attacks in recent months, some Christians responded with reprisals, killing at least 7 more people.
More than 150 people, mostly Christians, have been injured from Sunday’s violence. Police have not confirmed casualty figures, which are tallies from hospital officials.
In 2012 alone, more than 10 Christian churches have been attacked in Nigeria. Boko Haram, a militant Islamic sect, has claimed responsibility for some of these attacks, including attacks on two churches last Sunday.
Until today, Christians living in the predominately-Muslim north have mostly resisted being provoked to violence, responding instead with calls on the government to suppress Boko Haram and reestablish security. Today’s retaliation from some Christians is raising concerns that a cycle of religious violence could start in Nigeria, Africa‘s most populous nation.
“The reprisal attack is wrong because the solution to the country’s insecurity is by ensuring dialogue with the sect members who are attacking the Christians and even Muslims,” says Ignatius Kasuwa, an analyst from Kaduna state, the scene of today’s church attacks.
Mr. Kasuwa also appealed to the government to immediately overcome the issue of insecurity in the country, stressing that “Muslims and Christians worship God but reprisal is against the teaching of the two religions.”
Kaduna state lies on the dividing line between the country’s Christian majority in the south and mostly-Muslim north. Police suspect the blasts at the three churches this morning were carried out by suicide bombers. One attack targeted the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) church in Wusasa, another at the Catholic cathedral of Christ the King in Zaria, and a third at Shalom Church in Trikania.
Aminu Lawal, a police spokesman in Kaduna, confirmed the multiple blasts. “We all believed that it’s suicide bombers, but for now I will not give the details because we are yet to compile.”
An eyewitness at ECWA church said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who forced his way into the church premises after being stopped by the security guards at the gate. The bomber however managed to detonate the bomb in front of the entrance.
Dr. Taylor Adeyemi, a doctor at nearby St. Luke’s hospital, confirmed that 40 victims, mostly children, were brought into the hospital following the blast at the ECWA church. Three victims were dead on arrival.
The blast at the cathedral, meanwhile, left 10 dead and more than 50 injured, while the attack in Trikania involved multiple explosions.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. But it mirrors the style of Boko Haram, whose terror campaign has killed more than 1,000 people in the past two years. The group, whose name means “Western Education is Sacrilege,” wants to establish a Muslim state and says it attacks Christians in revenge for killings of Muslims in Nigeria.
The explosions sparked violence in Kaduna as Christian youths retaliated, moving around with cutlasses and sticks among other weapons. The youths burned one mosque and broke into and vandalized another.
About 35 victims of the reprisal attacks have been taken to St. Gerard’s Hospital, according to the hospital’s public relations officer. Seven of them were dead on arrival, burned by their presumed assailants. Malam Saidu Mujtaba, an eyewitness in Zaria, said he saw four bodies near the Goningora mosque; the account could not be independently verified.
“It’s high time for our people to revenge because most of the attack is purposely targeted on us, so I see no reason for us not to retaliate,” says Samuel Zakka, a Pentecostal Christian living in Zaria.
Speaking by phone, Mr. Zakka said the Christian community had been very patient, “but retaliation is the only solution for now because the government fails to address the insurgency caused by the terrorists.”
The Kaduna state government has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to bring the volatile situation under control. Security forces have mobilized in areas where Christian youths were beginning to get violent.