(ADDS NEWS ABOUT SUICIDE ATTACK IN MAIDUGURI)
Listen to Maggiore’s interview with Archbishop Kaigama
By BosNewsLife Africa Service with additional reporting by Stefan J. Bos and David Maggiore
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– One of Africa’s most influential church leaders has urged prayers after Islamist group Boko Haram killed as many as 2,000 people in northeastern Nigeria in what would be its worst single atrocity.
With world news focused on the massacre at a satirical paper in Paris, Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos and president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, urged the West and believers around the world not to forget the suffering of Christians in his troubled nation.
He made statements while bodies lay strewn on the ground in and around the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga, near the border with Chad, after Boko Haram fighters killed residents in the area in recent days.
Also on Saturday, January 10, at least 19 people were killed and several injured by a bomb strapped to a girl reported to be aged about 10 in north-eastern Nigeria, police said. The bomb exploded in a market in the city of Maiduguri, in Borno state.
Rights group Amnesty International (AI) said the attack on Baga and surrounding towns, looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s “deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group.”
If confirmed, it would be a “disturbing and bloody escalation” of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population, added Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.
“We are currently working to find out more details of what happened during the attack on Baga and the surrounding area. This attack reiterates the urgent need for Boko Haram to stop the senseless killing of civilians and for the Nigerian government to take measures to protect a population who live in constant fear of such attacks,” Eyre said.
Boko Haram militants reportedly began attacking Baga and surrounding towns on Saturday, January 3, as part of its Islamic campaign, according to witnesses and rights investigators.
The group has made clear it wants to establish a strict Islamic state and has repeatedly ordered Christians to leave northern Nigeria.
Many Christians are believed to be among those killed in the latest massacre.
“The civilians suffer more, because they have no protection, and I can imagine now that the villages that are said to have been attacked, and their populations, are totally destabilized,” said Archbishop Kaigama in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
He told Vatican Radio that the Nigerian government has so far not been able to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency, as the Islamic militant group is expanding its reach. “So far they have actually captured a number of local governments,” he added.
“Villages and towns have fallen under their control, and they declare they have established an Islamic caliphate… They are even expanding to neighboring countries – like Cameroon and Niger and Chad and so on – which means they are making progress in their own way,” the church leader explained.
Archbishop Kaigama said prayer was necessary, because the situation has gone beyond what “can be managed at the human level.” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, has come under mounting pressure to improve security.
Though this was one of its most bloodiest attacks, Boko Haram has deliberately targeted civilians through raids and bomb attacks since 2009. Its attacks have increased frequency and severity, according to church officials and rights investigators.
The effects on the civilian population have been devastating with thousands being killed or abducted, including hundreds of Christian school girls and young women. Additionally, hundreds of thousands have been forced to leave their homes, officials and aid workers say.
Rights investigators say evidence suggest that Boko Haram has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. “The Nigerian government must investigate these violent abuses and ensure that those guilty of committing them are brought to justice,” AI stressed.