Thursday, July 14, 2011

Attacks and Threats Shutter Nigeria's Churches

Obed Minchakpu, Compass Direct NewsWednesday, July 13, 2011

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (CDN) — Christians in northern Nigeria’s Borno state, already forced to abandon worship services due to attacks by Islamic sect Boko Haram, are bracing for a massive assault to commemorate the death of the extremists group’s leader at the end of the month.

Christians are streaming out of Maiduguri, about 540 miles northeast of the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where some of the worst-hit churches are located. Churches are shutting down as many of their members have lost their lives in attacks that have not ceased even after security agencies were enlisted to confront the assailants.

Compass witnessed most church buildings were shuttered and guarded by soldiers and police in the Maiduguri areas of Wulari-Jerusalem, Railway Station, Bulunkutu, Damboa Road, and Bayan NNPC. Some churches bold enough to open were compelled to reschedule their worship services in order to outmaneuver militants who knew that most services start at 10 a.m.

“As you can see, the town is unsafe, and it is just appropriate for any church leader to be reasonable and safe,” a pastor with The Apostolic Church who declined to give his name for fear of attack told Compass. “We took the decision to hold a one-and-a-half-hour service earlier than our usual time so that our people can return home in time because of the threat.”

Church leaders said The Living Faith Church (Winners Chapel) in Maiduguri’s Bulunkuttu area and the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in the Gomari area have seen attendance at worship drastically reduced – from 2,250 to 759 for the Living Faith Church, and from 500 to 240 for the COCIN body.

In early June the Islamic sect attacked St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Maiduguri twice, killing a total of 10 people in bombings on June 1 and June 7.

“The Islamic bombers, driving in a Honda car, stormed the church in the afternoon of that fateful day and threw the bombs into the church premises,” said police spokesman Abdulahi Lawal of the June 7 incident.

A Catholic priest at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Church who requested anonymity told Compass that the attack of June 7 took place in mid-afternoon, with about 50 members gathered inside.

The Rev. Yuguda Mdurvwa, chairman of the Borno state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, told Compass that besides St. Patrick’s and the COCIN church, churches attacked in Maiduguri include a Church of the Brethren (EYN) and several others. He said CAN leadership has directed churches to either suspend or reschedule their church services due to the dangers.

On the afternoon of June 16, Boko Haram militants attacked a Church of the Brethren congregation in Damboa, about 87 kilometers (54 miles) from Maiduguri, killing four persons.

Members of the Jama’atu ahlus Sunnah lid da’awati wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, have claimed responsibility for these church bombings and other attacks. Moreover, the Islamist sect that has declared jihad on the Nigerian government is reportedly expected to launch a terrorist offensive at the end of this month, the two-year anniversary of the death of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf.

Nigerian security forces captured Yusuf on July 30, 2009, and the next day he was dead under mysterious circumstances.

Religious freedom analyst Elizabeth Kendal writes in her Religious Liberty Monitoring blog that in June 2010, Boko Haram formalized its links with Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Kendal notes that terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky predicts this development could lead to the emergence of large-scale terrorism, including suicide bombings, unknown in Nigeria.

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