In another deadly move portraying Nigeria’s Borno state as a killing field for Nigerian Christians, attackers have stormed a church service in Kiyak village in the outskirts of Chibok, killing another set of 15 worshippers.
It was the second major killing of Christians in the Chibok area. Early in December, 10 Christians were also killed in the area.
Though Nigeria’s military denied the latest attack in a statement, the regional coordinator for the country’s National Emergency Management Agency, Mohammed Kanar, confirmed it, saying the victims were shot dead.
News of the killings emerged after President Goodluck Jonathan questioned whether deadly Islamist attacks on churches in his country and other violence worldwide could be signs of coming “end times”.
“We received information from our personnel in Chibok that some attackers stormed a church during Sunday service yesterday and killed 15 people,” Kanar told AFP.
He later specified that the attack was at an evangelical church in Kyachi village outside Chibok.
The attack followed another gruesome killing Friday that saw attackers slit the throats of 15 Christians in a pre-dawn raid in Musari, also in Borno state, where Boko Haram has been based.
During a Christmas Eve service last week, gunmen attacked a church in the neighbouring Yobe state, killing six people, including the pastor, before setting the building ablaze.
Violence linked to Boko Haram’s insurgency in northern and central Nigeria is believed to have left some 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces.
Last year’s violence had prompted Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in the hardest-hit areas.
During comments Sunday in which he mentioned attacks on churches in Nigeria, Syria’s war and the situation in the Central African Republic, where rebels have pushed their way across the impoverished country, Jonathan spoke of the Biblical end times.
“I was just wondering, could this be a clear way of telling us that the end times are so close?” he told the church congregation.
Some Christians believe in the idea of chaos in connection with the second coming of Jesus Christ, commonly referred to as the “end times”. Such beliefs are based on passages in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.
Jonathan was speaking at an evangelical Christian church service in the capital. The church belongs to the EYN denomination, common among Christians in the violence-torn northeast.
Local media quoted the church pastor as saying that 109 EYN members have been killed and 50 branches burnt. According to Kanar of the emergency agency, Sunday’s attack also involved an EYN church.
Muslims and symbols of Nigerian authority have often been Boko Haram’s targets, but the group has also specifically targeted Christians, including carrying out suicide bombings on churches.
Jonathan has previously accused Boko Haram of seeking to destabilise the government and incite a sectarian crisis.
On Sunday, while speaking of the rebels in the Central African Republic, Jonathan said: “They were quite close to taking over the capital city, just as Boko Haram is taking over Abuja for me and those working in government to run and hide somewhere else.”
He vowed however that Boko Haram would not succeed and that the violence would be brought under control.
“If the idea of Boko Haram is to stop Nigerians from worshipping God, they will not succeed,” he said.
“If the idea of Boko Haram is to stop government from providing the dividends of democracy, they will not succeed. … God willing and with our commitment, the excesses of Boko Haram and other criminal organisations will be brought to a reasonable control.”
.This story was updated 1 January, with reports that NEMA and the NEMA official quoted denied that 15 persons were killed in the village near Chibok.
The AFP posted the update thus:
Nigeria’s emergency agency on Tuesday denied a report from one of its officials that 15 people were killed at a church in the country’s volatile northeast, saying two were dead in unclear circumstances.
An official from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on Monday told journalists that attackers had killed 15 people during a church service Sunday in a remote village outside the town of Chibok.
The official who spoke is the agency’s coordinator for the northeast region, but the agency’s headquarters issued a statement on Tuesday providing a drastically different version. The military meanwhile denied any incident occurred.
The statement said the emergency agency had contacted the official quoted, Mohammed Kanar, and that he had denied giving the information. AFP could not reach him for comment on Tuesday.
NEMA “has denied a report claiming that 15 worshippers were killed in an outskirt of Chibok local government council of Borno state on Sunday,” the statement said.
“Though some of the reports claimed a source from NEMA provided the information, the agency not only contacted the same officer who denied it in its entirety, it also assigned a special team to investigate and verify the allegation which was later found to be unsubstantiated and untrue.
“Meanwhile the team has also discovered that two people were killed by unidentified gunmen around the area on Sunday and whose bodies had been deposited in a hospital. The victims were a security man and a bystander.”
Police could not be reached for comment. Medical officials in the Chibok area also could not be reached.
Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, a spokesman for a military task force in the region, which has been hard hit by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, told AFP he was not aware of any incident in the area on Sunday.
Asked about the NEMA statement saying two were dead, he maintained his previous statement and declined further comment.
Death tolls and information on attacks are often controversial and conflicting in Nigeria, with authorities under pressure to show progress in the fight against Boko Haram.