Gunmen in Nigeria torch 4 churches, fire on worshippers
People attend a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok, in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, May 22, 2014. (AP / Sunday Alamba)
Haruna Umar and Michelle Faul, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, June 29, 2014 11:57AM EDT
BAUCHI, Nigeria -- Suspected Islamic extremists sprayed gunfire at worshippers and torched four churches Sunday in a village just kilometres from the town where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped, witnesses said.
Scores of people have been killed and survivors are hiding in the bush around Kwada village, residents said.
"They killed dozens of people and burned houses after attacking worshippers," survivor Mallam Yahi told The Associated Press by telephone from Chibok town, to which he escaped.
Some of the church buildings destroyed included the Church of Christ in Nigeria, the Deeper Life Bible Church and Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa, which is Hausa for Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, Yahi said.
He said the attackers went on to neighbouring Kautikari, where they gunned down villagers and burned down homes.
Police spokesman Gideon Jubrin said he could not confirm the attack because bad communications have kept officials from reaching the nearest security post at Chibok. That was the site in northeast Borno state of the mass abduction in April. Officials say 219 girls remain captive. Kwada is 10 kilometres and Kautikari seven kilometres away.
Boko Haram extremists are demanding the release of detained fighters in return for the girls. Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticized for the slow reaction to the abductions and failure to swiftly rescue the girls. The United States has drones flying to help locate them and other nations have sent experts to help, but negotiations appear stalled.
Nigeria's military has said it knows where they are but fears any military campaign could get them killed.
Jonathan on Sunday condemned other recent attacks -- Friday's bombing of a hotel that local reports identified as a brothel in Bauchi state, also in the northeast, and sectarian killings of sedentary farmers who are mainly Christian by alleged Fulani Muslim herders in northern Kaduna state.
"The president commiserates with all the families who lost loved ones in the heinous attacks and extends his heartfelt sympathies to all those who suffered injuries or lost their properties during the wanton assaults on Bauchi and Kaduna States," said a statement. He promised the attackers would be brought to book.
Jonathan made no mention of the near-daily attacks Boko Haram extremists have been mounting in the area around Chibok, an enclave of mainly Christian people in the majority Muslim north of the country. Bauchi and Kaduna states are governed by Jonathan's ruling People's Democratic Party while Borno is held by an opposition governor.
A year-long military state of emergency in three northeastern states, all held by political opponents of Jonathan, has failed to curb the 5-year-old Islamic uprising that has killed thousands of people. The militants have increased the tempo and deadliness of attacks this year, with more than 2,000 people estimated killed compared to 3,600 in all four previous years.
Boko Haram also has increased its theatre of operations to bombings in several northern towns and the capital, Abuja, in central Nigeria. It is also blamed for some attacks in central Nigeria, which some politicians say are being mounted by extremists disguised as Fulani herdsmen.
The extremists are blamed for last week's bombing of a shopping mall in Abuja, the capital in central Nigeria, that killed 24 people. Boko Haram claimed two separate bomb attacks at an Abuja bus station in April that killed more than 120 people and wounded about 200.
Boko Haram wants to enforce an Islamic state in Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy, the continent's biggest oil producer and its most populous nation of about 170 million people divided almost equally between a majority Muslim north and mainly Christian south.