FaithWorld

Factbox on recent Boko Haram strikes on Nigerian churches

(A victim of a bombing at Shalom Church awaits treatment in a hospital, in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer )

Explosions at three churches in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna state killed 19 people on Sunday. Here is a look at attacks against Christian targets in Nigeria.

* OVERVIEW:

- The Islamist group Boko Haram, which says it is fighting to reinstate an Islamic caliphate in mostly Muslim northern Nigeria, has stepped up deadly bombings and shootings against Christian places of worship this year.

- This follows its high profile strikes against churches on Christmas Day in December 2011 and on Christmas Eve in 2010.

- Experts have said the anti-Christian attacks by the sect, which also often targets security forces and establishment figures, appear partly aimed at trying to ignite sectarian conflict in the country, whose 160 million people make it Africa’s most populous nation and are split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.

Nigeria church bombings kill 19, spark reprisal attacks on Muslims

(Onlookers gather near the bomb-damaged Shalom Church in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer)

Suicide car bombers attacked three churches in northern Nigeria on Sunday, killing at least 19 people, wounding dozens and triggering retaliatory attacks by Christian youths who dragged Muslims from cars and killed them, witnesses said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings but just one week ago Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for deadly church attacks.

Boko Haram “thanks God” after killing 12 in Nigeria church bombing

(People stand by the wreckage from a car bomb explosion at a church in Yelwa on the outskirts of the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi, June 3, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer)

Islamist militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing of a church in northern Nigeria that killed 12 people. A suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into a church during a Sunday serving in Yelwa, on the outskirts of the city of Bauchi, forcing his car through a checkpoint.

“We thank God for giving us victory. We successfully carried out a suicide bombing on a church at Yelwa in Bauchi state,” an emailed statement from Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa said on Monday. The email address was the same the sect always uses.

Nigeria starts mediated talks with violent Islamist sect Boko Haram

(People watch as boy scouts carry the coffins of the victims of the Christmas day bombing at St Theresa Catholic Church Madalla, during a mass funeral for the victims, outside Nigeria's capital Abuja February 1, 2012. Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bombing of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Abuja, which killed 37 people and wounded 57, the deadliest of a series of a attacks on Christmas Day in 2011. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

Nigeria’s government has in the last week held its first indirect peace talks with Islamist sect Boko Haram, meeting mediators to discuss a possible ceasefire, political and diplomatic sources have told Reuters.

Two people close to Boko Haram have been carrying messages back and forth between the sect’s self-proclaimed leader Abubakar Shekau and government officials, the sources, who asked not to be named, said.

Factbox-What is Nigeria’s violent Islamist sect Boko Haram?

(A car burns at the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde )

Nigeria has held its first indirect peace talks with Islamist sect Boko Haram, meeting mediators to discuss a possible ceasefire, political and diplomatic sources have said,

Here are some facts about Boko Haram:

* Boko Haram became active in about 2003 and is concentrated mainly in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna.

Special Report: Nigeria’s Boko Haram – between rebellion and jihad

(A man walks through the ruins of a zonal police headquarters after a bomb attack in Nigeria's northern city of Kano, January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer)

At about 10.40 one morning last August, Mohammed Abul Barra rammed his ash-colored station wagon into a security gate outside the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, knocking it off its hinges. Barra’s 1996 Honda Accord then crashed through the main building’s glass doors and slammed against the reception desk.

On security tapes of the incident seen by Reuters, a guard peers into the car, evidently unaware that it is packed with explosives. The grainy footage shows a dozen or so people in the reception edge towards the vehicle. Over 10 seconds pass in confusion before one man seemingly realizes what is about to happen. He grabs the person next to him and darts towards the lift. But it’s too late. Barra steadies himself, leans forward and the security screens blur into white fuzz.

Nigeria’s President Jonathan tells Boko Haram Islamists to come out and talk

(Emir of Kano Ado Bayero (R) welcomes President Goodluck Jonathan during his visit to the northern city of Kano January 22, 2012, following bomb attacks that took place on Friday. REUTERS/Stringer)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan challenged the violent Islamist Boko Haram sect on Thursday to identify themselves and state clearly their demands as a basis for talks, while acknowledging that military confrontation alone will not end their insurgency.

In an interview with Reuters at the presidential villa in the capital Abuja, Jonathan said there was no doubt that Boko Haram had links with other jihadist groups outside Nigeria.

Nigerian police find bomb-filled cars in Kano after Boko Haram attacks killed 178

(Red Cross officials load bodies into a truck in Nigeria's northern city of Kano January 21, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer)

Nigerian police said they found cars and vans filled with explosives in the northern city of Kano on Monday, three days after Islamist sect Boko Haram carried out a deadly attack there. Security in Nigeria’s second largest city has been beefed up since Friday when bomb attacks and fierce gun battles between the sect and police killed at least 178 people.

“The police were on a stop-and-search today and in two of the checkpoints, the Boko Haram members on sighting the checkpoints abandoned their vehicles and ran,” a high-level police officer told Reuters, asking not to be named. “The vehicles were later checked and the cars were loaded with explosives. Two brand new Hilux open pick-up vans were also found packed with explosives in the Bompai area of Kano.”

Nigeria’s radical Islamist Boko Haram ups it’s game, but it’s not Al Qaeda

(Security forces view the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

With a YouTube video reminiscent of the broadcasts of Osama bin Laden, Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram seems keen to paint itself as part of a wider global jihad. But in reality, their concerns and focus look to remain almost entirely Nigerian. Whilst recent high-profile attacks including the bombing of a United Nations compound in August resembled Islamist attacks long common elsewhere, analysts say there remain few proven links to similar militants elsewhere.

Instead, it is seen much more focused on domestic issues — part of a wider swelling of discontent against the current mainly southern and Christian leadership. But there is little doubt it is growing in both power and momentum.

Leader of violent Nigerian Islamist group defends killing Christians in video

(A victim lies on the ground after a bomb attack in Abuja in this December 25, 2011 still image taken from video. Islamist militant group Boko Haram said it planted bombs that exploded on Christmas Day at churches in Nigeria, one of which killed at least 27 people on the outskirts of the capital. REUTERS/via Reuters TV)

The leader of Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram said recent killings of Christians were justifiable revenge attacks and President Goodluck Jonathan had no power to stop the group’s insurgency, in the first video of him posted online. The 15 minute video of Abubakar Shekau posted on YouTube is similar in style to messages submitted by other Islamist groups like al Qaeda, a sign of the growing influence other jihadist movements are having on the sect.

Boko Haram, whose name translates from the northern Hausa language as “Western education is sinful”, has been behind almost daily killings in its home base in the largely Muslim northeast, most recently targeting Christians.