Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Boko Haram declares war in Nigeria

(Photos by Associated Press/Sunday Alamba)

Nigeria (MNN) ― Police in Nigeria discovered ten more car bombs yesterday in Kano, an area already reeling from multiple bombings on Friday.

Spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA, Todd Nettleton, says the level of sophistication is what's drawing their concern. "This was a very serious attack. It also shows the growing ability of Boko Haram to coordinate attacks and to maximize the body count."

Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect, claimed the bomb blasts that killed 256 people. The attacks came shortly after Muslim prayers in that beleaguered nation's second-largest city. This time instead of churches, it was police headquarters and other police stations, a secret police building, and immigration offices that were targeted. According to a video released by the group's leader, the attacks were a response to a refusal by the authorities to release the sect's members from custody.

The government deployed thousands of troops to quell the violence. While they have over 300 people in custody, Nettleton says it's not doing much to reassure the shell-shocked Nigerians. "The government seems unable to stop these attacks, unable to take a really significant stand against Boko Haram, and that's a concern not only to Christians in Nigeria, but really to everybody in Nigeria."

Although the group has mainly confined their activities to northeastern Nigeria, many fear extremist elements within the sect may try to escalate the crisis throughout the country -- "not only government of Nigeria targets, but international targets, as well. They have basically declared war on law and order in Nigeria, and anybody who represents law and order, they are willing to attack as they continue these calls that Nigeria should be an Islamic nation and should follow Sharia law."

This could amount to starting a civil war and destabilizing the government at the same time. President Goodluck Jonathon declared a 24-hour curfew to clear the streets. However, from there, it's clear that fear is spreading. 

If Christians are provoked further, church leaders warn they will defend themselves. "Pray that the Christians will have wisdom to know how to respond, because we want to respond like Christ. We want to represent Him. At the same time, they don't want to be 'sitting ducks' for more of these attacks that are specifically targeting Christians."

Nearly 200 religious leaders gathered on Monday for a prayer vigil. A short time later, police discovered the car bombs as well as nearly 300 homemade explosives.  

In Hausa, Boko Haram means "Western education is sinful" and is modeled on the Taliban movement. Since Christianity is equated with the West, Nettleton says believers know they're in the cross-hairs. "What is this going to mean for Nigeria? What is this going to mean for religious freedom in the northern part of the country? Are Christians going to have the ability to witness, the ability to meet together, the ability to worship in a place where they have been clearly told by Boko Haram, 'You should leave, or else'?"

Experts predict the violence will continue to spiral out of control. Nearly every news report Nettleton watches concludes with a grim prediction of civil war.

"Pray for wisdom for the Christians in Northern Nigeria to know how to respond, to balance their own need for safety and protection while also living out the biblical mandate to love our enemies and to forgive those who persecute us."

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