Yet another Islamist attack on a church and a violent reaction Christian youth provide more evidence that Nigeria is closer than ever to sliding into a religious civil war. Thus far, authorities have been unable to stem the tide of violence, and in some cases, officials themselves are biased by their religious persuasions. Nigerian Christians are split between wanting to fight back and trying to follow Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek.
On Sunday, March 11, suicide bombers approached St. Finbar’s Catholic Church by car during the 10:30 a.m. service before they were stopped by several youths on security detail. A wary policeman shot out the car tires and the bombers were forced to detonate their bomb early, killing at least nine church members.
Muslim extremist sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bombing, telling reporters it was to avenge the killing and dehumanization of Muslims. “We attacked simply because it’s a church, and we can decide to attack any other church,” spokesman Abu Qaqa told United Press International (UPI). “We have just started.” The group also claimed responsibility for a bombing two weeks earlier at a major Protestant church in Jos, as well as multiple bombings around the region on Christmas Day.
Afterwards, authorities told multiple news sources that in response hundreds of angry Christian youths burned homes and killed at least 10 people. But a VOM worker says the deaths could have at the hands of soldiers, rather than protesters.
A few hours after the blast, the VOM worker headed to the scene to help. On the way, he met Christian youths who erected roadblocks and were checking passing cars for bomb materials, weapons or anything harmful. One of the young men told him that Muslim authorities had taken advantage of the aftermath. He said they killed over 50 protesting youth and took their bodies, claiming they were Muslims killed by Christians.
At the scene of the explosion, the VOM worker saw bullet holes in the cars, trees and buildings affected by the blast, but none of 100-plus parishioners there had a gun. He wondered who would be shooting at the victims of a suicide bombing. Later at the hospital, the VOM worker saw several Christians with gunshot wounds.
“At the moment, in Jos, suicide bombings are always aided and supported by Nigerian armies who are loyalist to the Muslim jihad movement in Nigeria,” a VOM worker said. “The Special Task Force commander in Jos is a Muslim, and since he came in the last month, the city has not known peace.”
The series of attacks are fueling an already simmering sentiment that it is time for Nigerian Christians to fight back against their Muslim neighbors, who are seemingly given free passes to commit violence against them. “We are tired of turning the other cheek,” one Nigerian Christian explained in 2010. But others still call for a peaceful response.
Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jos, appealed for calm, saying, “We have a faith that preaches the respect of the sanctity of the human life. We have a faith and have the ability to reason. So, we must not behave like those who believe they are serving god by killing others.”
How Nigerian believers respond remains to be seen. “Christians indeed are aggrieved seeing their loved ones killed every day for just being Christians,” said the VOM worker.
Sources: VOM contacts, United Press International, Compass Direct News