- Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 13:53
- Written by Elombah.com
Okene - Gunmen fired on worshippers in a church in central Nigeria, killing at least 19 people, including the pastor, and wounding others, Nigeria military has said. The attack targeted a Deeper Life church in the town of Otite in Kogi state, about 250km (155 miles) south-west of Nigeria's capital, Abuja. Police and soldiers surrounded the
church on Tuesday morning, witnesses said. It was unclear how many people were wounded in the attack Monday night.
The gunmen surrounded the church during a service and opened fire with Kalashnikov rifles, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Olorunyomi said. The pastor was among the dead.
Soldiers searched for gunmen through the night, but had made no arrests as of Tuesday, he added, No group has claimed responsibility.
The killings come as Nigeria faces continuing attacks from a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram.
The sect, whose name mean "western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's Muslim north, has attacked churches in the past, though never as far as south.
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.
Boko Haram also has launched suicide car bomb attacks around Abuja in the past.
The sect is thought to have carried out more than 660 killings this year in Nigeria.
"The attack was at 8:20 pm yesterday night. The attack was from unknown gunmen at the Deeper Life Church," said Lt. Col. Gabriel Olorunyomi, head of the military's Joint Task Force (JTF) in Kogi state.
"They were doing their normal Monday evening service. When we went there we discovered the church had been attacked. Instantly we saw 15 people dead, including the pastor," he explained.
The military has since learned that an additional four people had died from their injuries, Olorunyomi explained.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The JTF commander said an investigation had been launched and that it was premature to speculate as to the culprits.
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 group has also attacked Muslim figures as well as a range of other targets, including the United Nations building in the capital Abuja.
A number of Boko Haram members are alleged to have come from Kogi state.
In mid-July, a bomb went off near another church in Okene, but caused 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.
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 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.
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.