By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Paul Jongas reporting from Nigeria with additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– At least hundreds of residents began fleeing northeastern Nigeria Sunday, October 21, after three days of Islamic attacks against churches and other targets left dozens dead.
Among the churches hit by suspected fighters of the militant Boko Haram group since Thursday, October 18, was an evangelical congregation in Nigeria’s troubled Borno State.
Reporters said gunmen attacked the building of the Church of Brethren in Nigeria in Atagara village in the Gwoza area, killing at least two people.
The entire church was reportedly set ablaze as part of a wider Islamic campaign in the state that also included the killing of a Chinese engineer and three colleagues.
At least one church was also torched by militants in the northeastern city of Potiskum, where at least 31 people died in the last three days, including one or more policemen, according to refugees and reporters.
Most churches were closed in Potiskum on Sunday, October 21, as worshipers stayed away amid fears of more anti-Christian violence, residents said.
“Christian residents stayed home for safety reasons,” French news agency AFP quoted resident Bukar Kolo as saying. “A church was also burnt in the attacks and people are afraid to go for [a] Sunday church service for fear of [a] possible attack,” he said.
It was not immediately clear how many Christians were among the dead and injured in Potiskum, but witnesses said that besides the church many other properties were destroyed.
HIGHER DEATH TOLL?
Residents said the toll could be higher than the reported 31 killed in Potiskum, as some relatives had taken some bodies from the streets for burial.
Boko Haram, which means ‘Western Education is a Sin’, has been fighting for an Islamic state in especially central and northern Nigeria, where the group has demanded that Christians leave the area.
The militant campaign and the military response are believed to have left more than 2,800 people dead since 2009.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, is divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
The government has come under pressure to improve security, though soldiers were seen patrolling the streets of the crisis-hit areas.