Up to 200 people may have been killed in one week, after suspected Boko Haram militants have launched a wave of attacks near the north-eastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri.
According to survivor reports told to the BBC, in one village the Islamist militants went on a rampage, killing about 45 people. The attackers told villagers they had come to preach, before firing on a crowd that gathered.
Despite emergency rule being imposed a year ago in the north-east, Nigeria’s government has been facing increased pressure from the international community to do more about the militants.
Earlier in May, attacks on the commercial centre of Jos, central Plateau State, killed many and bore signs of a religious war. Paul Robinson, chief executive of advocacy group Release International, warned that the world would be making a ‘grave mistake’ if it ignored the religious dimension to Boko Haram’s ‘political agenda’.
Mr Robinson said, ‘This assault on Jos is clearly an attempt to reignite religious tensions in an area which has witnessed violence in the past, particularly in 2001. This proves beyond doubt that there is a religious dimension to this insurgency that the mainstream media often seem to skate over.
‘Despite heightened security, Jos remains at risk. A partner of ours on the ground said that a man with explosives strapped to his body who was arrested on Saturday told police he was one of “many dispatched to detonate bombs in churches and public places around Jos”. Jos — and Nigeria as a whole — really needs our prayers right now.’
Ani Ekpo, pastor at Port Harcourt, sent an eyewitness account from a person known to him, to Evangelical Times.
The account read: ‘The bomb targeted a part of the market where Igbo (a tribe from south-eastern part of Nigeria predominantly Christians) had their shops, mostly selling shoes, bags and carpets.
‘The exact location of the explosion is the place where they all used to meet for Christian fellowship and prayers during business day, every day at about 12.00pm and sometimes 1.00pm’.
He said the Muslims usually cover their tables at 2.00pm and 3.30pm for prayers in a mosque [near] the area every day, before they come back to their business. So the 2.00pm bomb was targeting an area devoid of Muslims and full of Christians who had just finished their prayers.
He added: ‘The second bomb was planted to cut off the only escape route that leads to a safer Christian dominated area of the metropolis, which is the place where many trying to escape will use, including those coming to help.
‘After the bomb blast, most of the Christians that tried to escape through the Muslim dominated areas were killed in cold blood. I met some victims that were not bomb victims but that of machete and gunshot wounds, targeted as they were running through the Muslim area’.