Shadows Of Civil War Haunt Religious Violence In Nigeria

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ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s president said Sunday that ongoing sectarian assaults by a radical Islamist sect are “even worse” than the country’s 1960s civil war that saw 1 million people die – suggesting that the enemy this time could be lurking anywhere and everywhere.

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President Goodluck Jonathan’s comments about the sect known as Boko Haram came as authorities said that suspected gunmen from the group killed at least six people in separate weekend assaults. The sect has killed at least 52 people in recent days after pledging to target Christians living in the multiethnic nation’s Muslim north.

Speaking at a church service honoring the country’s military dead, Jonathan said he believes Boko Haram members or sympathizers work in the government and the country’s National Assembly, as well as its security agencies.

“The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought,” Jonathan said. “During the civil war, we knew and we could even predict where the enemy was coming from. You can even know the route they are coming from, you can even know what caliber of weapon they will use and so on.”

He added that Boko Haram remains murky, people in the north had told him it could be possible their own children could belong to the sect without them knowing about it.

“Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house,” Jonathan said.

Nigeria’s civil war began in 1967, when the Igbo people of Nigeria’s southeast broke away from the country and formed the Republic of Biafra. Fighting lasted about three years, with many fatalities coming from Biafran refugees starving from a lack of food.

While largely not talked about even today, Jonathan has referenced the civil war in the past. After his April election win saw 800 people die in political and religious rioting, he described the violence as “sad reminders” of the war.

“As a nation we are yet to come to terms with the level of human suffering, destruction and displacement, including that of our children to faraway countries, occasioned by those dark days,” he said then.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, is responsible for at least 510 killings last year alone, according to an Associated Press count. It has targeted churches in the past in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria. In a recent attack, it killed 20 Igbo traders holding a meeting in Nigeria’s northeast.

Authorities said gunmen attacked a military vehicle Sunday afternoon in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Military spokesman Lt. Col. Hassan Ifijeh Mohammed says the attack killed three civilians and wounded six civilians and one soldier.

Local police commissioner Simeon Midenda said another attack on a tea shop Saturday night in Biu in Borno state killed three people.

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