September 9, 2014

​Boko Haram Takes Aim at Churches in Northern Nigeria

 ©2014 Religion News Service

Five months after Boko Haram
abducted more than 200 girls in Nigeria’s Borno State, the Islamic extremist
group has begun occupying churches in the country’s northeastern region, church
officials there said.

The militant group, which church
leaders and analysts view as an African variation of the Islamic State, is also
beheading men, forcing Christian women to convert to Islam and taking them as
wives, officials said.

“Things are getting pretty bad,”
said the Rev. John Bakeni, the secretary of the Maiduguri Roman Catholic
diocese in northeastern Nigeria. “A good number of our parishes in Pulka and
Madagali areas have been overrun in the last few days.”

The militants have turned the church
compound and rectory of the St. Denis Parish in Madagali town into their base,
the priest said. The militants overran the church center on August 23. “The
priest in charge managed to escape, but they took his car and important church
documents,” said Bakeni.

“Many civilians are now on the run,”
he added. “Many others are being trapped and killed. Life means nothing here.
It’s so cheap and valueless.”

In 2009, the group launched its
first military operation in Maiduguri, advocating for a strict form of Shariah.
Since then, it has attacked churches, villages, government installations and
public places across north and northeastern Nigeria.

It has also carried out mass
kidnappings in the region and is still holding captive more than 200 girls it
grabbed from a local school in Chibok. The girls were kidnapped on
April 14.

After seizing the Borno State town
of Gwoza from government forces last month, the group’s leader, Abubakar
Shekau, announced an Islamic caliphate.

Church officials say a thin line
divides Boko Haram and the Islamic State.

“The same ideology runs through
their methods and disposition,” said Bakeni.

With the rise of Boko Haram,
scholars say Islamic extremism threatens Africa as much as it does the Middle
East, the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Boko Haram bears an inmate family resemblance
to developments elsewhere in the Muslim world,” wrote Charles Villa-Vicencio, a
South African theologian and a visiting professor in the Conflict Resolution
Program at Georgetown University, in the July/August edition of the Horn of
Africa Bulletin
. “ … Resilient Muslims are engaged in a fight–back against
the western influence.”