KANO, Nigeria: An attack on churches in northeast Nigeria blamed on Boko Haram killed more than 50 people, an official said on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), overshadowing festivities ahead of a last-16 World Cup match against France.
Gunmen stormed on Sunday (Monday in Manila) services in four villages near Chibok in Borno state, where Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls on April 14.
They hurled explosives into churches, torched buildings and fired on worshippers as they tried to flee, residents said.
“So far we have 54 dead,” said a Borno state official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss casualties with the media.
Federal government spokesman Mike Omeri confirmed that “a number of people were killed” but said he had not yet received an official casualty report from the local government and could not discuss specifics.
Locals have accused the military of ignoring distress calls made after the attack began, leaving them defenseless during the attack, but Omeri said: “I was . . . reliably informed that the military and the airforce were there. Maybe a little late, but they made it there.”
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said the attacks provided “conclusive proof” that Boko Haram was using religion as a cover for their “reprehensible crimes against their countrymen and women.”
“The president deplores the renewed targeting by Boko Haram of adherents of a particular religion and urges all lovers of peace and unity to wholly condemn the resurgence of efforts by agents of global terrorism to disunite and destabilize Nigeria by callously instigating violence among religious groups in the country,” a statement from the presidency said.
A Chibok leader, who also requested anonymity, challenged the government’s version of events, saying the military “did not attempt go” to the scene of the raid.
“Anybody who tells you the military went there is lying,” he said.
After the April abductions, Chibok residents accused the security forces of doing almost nothing to secure the girls’ release, despite military claims that a massive manhunt had been launched.