Boko Haram Extremists Fire on Nigerian Churchgoers, Burn 4 Churches

Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group, is suspected in attacks on Nigerian churches as well as other attacks, including one Friday in Bauchi on this hotel, which local reports called a brothel. (European Pressphoto Agency)
Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group, is suspected in attacks on Nigerian churches as well as other attacks, including one Friday in Bauchi on this hotel, which local reports called a brothel. (European Pressphoto Agency)

Gunmen fired at worshipers and burned four churches on Sunday in a village just miles from the town where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped, witnesses said.

At least 30 bodies had been recovered, but more were turning up in the bushes, where people tried to escape from the violence in the village of Kwada, said a member of a vigilante group organized to repel such attacks.

“They killed dozens of people and burned houses after attacking worshipers,” the vigilante, Mallam Yahi, said by telephone after he fled to the nearby town of Chibok, in the northeastern state of Borno, where the girls were abducted in April.

Mr. Yahi said the attackers, believed to be members of the extremist group Boko Haram, went on to Kautikari, where they shot villagers and burned down homes. He said that members of his group had not yet reached Kautikari, so they did not know what the death toll was there.

A police spokesman, Gideon Jubrin, said he could not confirm the attacks because poor communications had kept officials from reaching the nearest security post at Chibok, but reporters were able to make cellphone calls to the town, which is six miles from Kwada and four miles from Kautikari. Angry Chibok residents said soldiers were slow to respond to news of the attack, and the vigilantes said that once they reached Kwada, the soldiers refused to confront the gunmen directly, only shooting at them from a distance outside the village. They spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the military.

Boko Haram extremists attacked a military camp in the neighboring local government area of Damboa last week and killed at least 51 soldiers. Survivors said the militants arrived in armored personnel carriers mounted with antiaircraft guns and were armed with rocket launchers and submachine guns much heavier than the soldiers’ AK-47 assault rifles. The insurgents abducted many soldiers who remain missing, they said.

Boko Haram extremists are demanding the release of detained fighters in return for the kidnapped girls. President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticized for the slow reaction to the abductions and the failure to swiftly rescue the girls. The United States has drones flying to help locate them, and other nations have sent experts to help, but negotiations appear to be stalled.

Nigeria’s military has said it knows where the girls are, but fears any military campaign could get them killed.

Mr. Jonathan on Sunday condemned other recent attacks — Friday’s bombing of a hotel that local reports identified as a brothel in the state of Bauchi, also in the northeast, and the killings of farmers, mainly Christians, by attackers believed to be Fulani Muslim herders in the northern state of Kaduna.

“The president commiserates with all the families who lost loved ones in the heinous attacks and extends his heartfelt sympathies to all those who suffered injuries or lost their properties during the wanton assaults on Bauchi and Kaduna States,” said a statement. He promised the attackers would be brought to justice.

Mr. Jonathan made no mention of the near-daily attacks Boko Haram extremists have been mounting in the area around Chibok, an enclave of mainly Christian people in the majority-Muslim northern part of the country. The states of Bauchi and Kaduna are governed by Mr. Jonathan’s governing party, while Borno is held by an opposition governor.

A yearlong military state of emergency in three northeastern states, all held by political opponents of Mr. Jonathan, has failed to curb the five-year-old Islamic uprising that has killed thousands of people. The militants have increased the tempo and deadliness of attacks this year, with more than 2,000 people estimated to have been killed so far this year compared with 3,600 in the four previous years combined.

SOURCE: The Associated Press

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