(ADDS DENIAL ABOUT REPORTED MASSACRE, CHANGES HEADLINE AND LEAD)
By Paul Jongas, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Nigeria
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Nigeria’s army said Saturday, November 24, that it offers $1.8 million for information leading to the capture of 19 leading members of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, amid fresh reports of deadly attacks against Christians and others.
Boko Haram wants to impose strict sharia – or Islamic law – in the country of 160 million, split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims, and analysts agree the group has become the biggest security threat to what is Africa’s largest oil producer.
The announcement came as several local media outlets reported that about a day after ten men were killed in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, at least twenty women, some clad in mini-skirts, were “slaughtered” Friday, November 23, in their Maiduguri homes and college dormitories.
However Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper later quoted the government’s Joint Task Force (JTF) in charge of security in Borno State as denying reports the women, including students of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) were killed.
The confusion over the reported killings came shortly after at least four people were feared dead in anti-Christian violence Thursday, November 22, in Bichi town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Nigeria’s largest northern city of Kano.
Kano State police chief Ibrahim Idris told reporters that he believes nobody died in the town, but residents claimed to have seen four dead bodies outside Christian-owned shops and a burned down church.
Idris, said the riots broke out after a tailor trader was misunderstood and accused of blasphemy against Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
That violence followed similar sectarian clashes in central Nigeria, fueling concerns of a widening conflict involving Muslims and Christians in this African nation.
Abubakar Sadani, the councilor of a ward in Ibi town in Nigeria’s Taraba state, said the death toll following the November 18 violence has risen to 10.
The riots broke out after a Muslim resident was killed by what reporters called “Christian vigilante” when he tried to go through a checkpoint set up as a response to church attacks.
Local Christians reportedly set up the barricade near the local Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria while a service was underway to prevent Muslim militants from driving to the Church, a tactic often used by Boko Haram to drive-out Christians.
Nigeria’s government has come under mounting international pressure to improve security especially in northern areas of the country, where Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is a sin’, want Christians to leave.
Since 2009, close to 3,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram linked violence, according to rights activists.