Nigerian Christians Shot, Killed While Praying in Church

January 6, 2012 - 6:36 AM
Nigeria Violence

Onlookers and security staff gather around a car destroyed in a blast next to St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, Nigeria, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011. An explosion ripped through a Catholic church during Christmas Mass near Nigeria's capital Sunday, killing scores of people, officials said. A radical Muslim sect claimed the attack and another bombing near a church in the restive city of Jos, as explosions also struck the nation's northeast. (AP Photo/Dele Jones)

GOMBE, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen attacked a church in northeast Nigeria during a prayer service, spraying the congregation with gunfire and killing at least six people including the pastor's wife.

The assault late Thursday comes just weeks after a radical Muslim sect claimed responsibility for a series of deadly bombings at churches in northern Nigeria.

Gombe state police spokesman Ahmed Muhammad confirmed Friday that six people died following the shootings at the Deeper Life Church in Gombe, and that eight others were wounded.

The oil-rich nation's president recently put regions of the country under a state of emergency due to the threat, but that did not include Gombe.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion immediately fell on the radical Muslim sect known as Boko Haram. The sect has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is responsible for more than 500 killings this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The group claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least 42 people in a Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church near Abuja, as well as a suicide car bombing targeting the U.N. headquarters in the capital that killed 25 people and wounded more than 100.

Nigeria's weak central government has been slow to respond to the sect.

On Dec. 31, President Goodluck Jonathan declared regions of Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobe states to be under a state of emergency — meaning authorities can make arrests without proof and conduct searches without warrants. He also ordered international borders near Borno and Yobe state to be closed.

However, it remains unclear what effect that will have on a sect that has adopted hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings to target the country's military and police, as well as civilians.

___

Associated Press writers Ibrahim Garba in Kano, Nigeria; Njadvara Musa in Maiduguri, Nigeria and Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.