By DREW DICKSON
PUBLISHED: 09:39 EST, 7 August 2012 | UPDATED: 10:44 EST, 7 August 2012
- Pastor and members of congregation are shot dead
- Islamic terror group Boko Haram suspected of being behind atrocity
- Insurgents have targeted scores of churches in campaign of violence that has killed hundreds
Gunmen have opened fire on an evangelical church during a service in central Nigeria, killing at least 19 people.
The armed gang struck at the Deeper Life Church at 8:20pm yesterday.
‘They were doing their normal Monday evening service,’ said Lt. Col. Gabriel Olorunyomi, head of the military’s Joint Task Force (JTF) in Kogi state.
A church previously destroyed by militants Boko Haram in Jos, Nigeria. The group is also thought to be behind an attack which left 19 dead in Lagos
‘When we went there we discovered the church had been attacked.
‘Instantly we saw 15 people dead, including the pastor.’
Another four people have since died of their injuries, he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has claimed scores of attacks on churches in northern and central Nigeria in recent months as part of an insurgency that has killed hundreds.
The JTF commander said an investigation had been launched and that it was premature to speculate as to the culprits.
Boko Haram has also attacked Muslim figures as well as a range of other targets, including the United Nations building in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
In mid-July, a bomb went off near another church in Okene, but there were no casualties.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said in June that Boko Haram was seeking to incite a religious crisis by attacking churches in an attempt to destabilise the government.
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said Boko Haram is trying to destabilise the country
Mr Jonathan described how the group had moved from targeting local rivals to government institutions and now churches.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
In a video posted to YouTube on Saturday, the suspected leader of Boko Haram criticised Mr Jonathan as well as US President Barack Obama over Washington’s decision to label him a ‘global terrorist’.
It was unclear when the video was made, but it marked the first time Abubakar Shekau publicly addressed the terrorist designation slapped on him by the United States in June.
In addition to Shekau, the US State Department also announced the designations for Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi. Kambar and Barnawi were said to be linked to Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Qaeda’s north African branch.
Members of Boko Haram are believed to have received training from AQIM in northern Mali, and Western countries have been watching closely for signs of further cooperation.
Nigeria has been the scene of unrest in a widespread campaign of terror
Some US lawmakers have been pushing Obama’s administration to label Boko Haram as a whole a terrorist organisation, but American diplomats have stressed that the group remains domestically focused.
They also say deep poverty and a lack of infrastructure in Nigeria’s north must be addressed as part of the solution to the violence.