By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- At least 12 people, including a pastor and a deacon, were killed when suspected Islamic militants attacked two churches in northern Nigeria during Christmas Eve services, Christians and police said Tuesday, December 25.
Christians said one assault happened at the Church of Christ in Nations in Peri village near Potiskum, the economic capital of Yobe state.
"A group of gunmen entered the village around midnight and went straight to the church," a resident of Peri told reporters. "They opened fire on them, killing the pastor and five worshipers. They then set fire to the [Evangelical Church of West Africa in Peri]."
Worshipers were also attacked at the First Baptist Church in Maiduguri, in Borno state, where a deacon and five church members were killed, Christians said.
The head of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Yobe State said in published remarks that many of the worshipers were "still missing."
Christian houses that were near the church were also attacked and set on fire, according to rights investigators.
They were the latest strikes against Christians in the region. Over 30 people died in a wave of Christmas Day attacks in the north last year, blamed on militant group Boko Haram, or 'Western education is a sin', which aims to establish an Islamic state.
Boko Haram militants have attacked Christians and moderate Muslims, who are considered insufficiently Islamist.
The group is believed to be responsible for killing over 3,000 people since it began its armed insurgency in 2009.
In Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the latest northern Nigerian violence in his traditional Christmas message. "Savage acts of terrorism" in the area, he stressed, "continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians."
Ahead of Christmas, Christians and government officials had repirtedly been preparing for a potential attack by Boko Haram.
Many Christians considered not attending church services because of the potential of being attacked, said religious rights group International Christian Concern (ICC).
"Christians and the Nigerian government have been bracing for an attack on Christmas," explained ICC's Regional Manager for Africa, William Stark, in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"Unfortunately, their preparations were not able to protect Christians living in Peri. Every Christmas since 2010, Christians in Nigeria have been attacked by Boko Haram," he said.
At least 96 Christians have been killed on Christmas by Boko Haram over the past three years, according to Christian rights activists.
Earlier this year, Boko Haram demanded all Christians leave Nigeria's North.
"Since then, the group has continued to wage a campaign of terror against those Christians who decided to stay," ICC said.
The United States is still deciding whether to designate Boko Haram a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which would allow the US to seize Boko Haram's assets under US jurisdiction.
"This would help stem the flow of arms and funds the group receives from sources outside Nigeria's borders," said ICC.
"The consistency of these attacks shows Nigeria's government is struggling to deal with the violence that has dominated its northern states since 2009.The international community must take decisive action," added Stark.
Help BosNewsLife to be a voice for the voiceless. Click here for a subscription.