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Gunmen torch churches, kill scores in Nigeria

File - Monday, May 19, 2014, Martha Mark, the mother of kidnapped school girl Monica Mark, cries as she display her photo in the family house, in Chibok, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

BAUCHI, Nigeria: Suspected Islamic extremists sprayed gunfire at worshippers and torched four churches Sunday in a village just miles from the town where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped, witnesses said.

At least 30 bodies have been recovered but more are turning up in the bushes, where people tried to escape from Kwada village, said a member of a vigilante group that has had some successes in repelling attacks.

“They killed dozens of people and burned houses after attacking worshippers,” survivor Mallam Yahi told the Associated Press by telephone from Chibok town, to which he escaped.

Some of the church buildings destroyed included the Protestant Church of Christ in Nigeria, the Pentecostal Deeper Life Bible Church and Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa, which is Hausa for Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, Yahi said. The last was started by American missionaries from Illinois in the 1920s.

Yahi said the attackers went on to Kautikari, where they gunned down villagers and burned down homes. The vigilante said they had not yet reached Kautikari so did not know what the death toll was there.

Police spokesman Gideon Jubrin said he could not confirm the attack because bad communications have kept officials from reaching the nearest security post at Chibok, though Associated Press reporters were able to make cell phone calls to the town. Chibok is the town in northeast Borno state from which more than 200 girls were abducted in April. Officials say 219 girls remain captive. Kwada is 10 kilometers and Kautikari seven kilometers away.

Angry Chibok residents said soldiers were slow to respond to news of the attack, and the vigilantes said that once they reached Kwada, the soldiers refused to confront the extremists, only shooting at them from a distance outside the village. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the military.

Boko Haram extremists attacked a military camp in the neighboring local government area of Damboa last week and killed at least 51 soldiers. Survivors said they came in armored personnel carriers mounted with anti-aircraft guns and were armed with rocket launchers and submachine guns much heavier than the soldiers’ AK47 assault rifles. The insurgents abducted many soldiers who remain missing, they said.

Boko Haram are demanding the release of detained fighters in return for the kidnapped girls. Nigeria’s military has said it knows where they are but fears any military campaign could get them killed.

Jonathan Sunday condemned other recent attacks – Friday’s bombing of a hotel that local reports identified as a brothel in Bauchi state, also in the northeast, and sectarian killings of sedentary farmers who are mainly Christian by alleged Fulani Muslim herders in northern Kaduna state.

“The president commiserates with all the families who lost loved ones in the heinous attacks and extends his heartfelt sympathies to all those who suffered injuries or lost their properties during the wanton assaults on Bauchi and Kaduna States.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 30, 2014, on page 11.

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