Nigeria (MNN) – At one time, Nigerian Christians and law enforcement had the most to fear from the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militia Boko Haram.
Today, it seems their campaign to instill Sharia law throughout the country has broadened. Their new targets are ‘soft’ targets: farmers, aid workers, schoolchildren and teachers. Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra explains, “I think the government is increasing pressure the result, I believe, is that the Boko Haram is fighting back.”
Their latest attack can only be described in one word: horrifying. In the dawn hours of July 8, Dykstra says, “Suspected Boko Haram extremists came to the school and set fire to the school and many of the students were burned alive. Others were shot in the back when they tried to flee.”
The boarding school was in Mamudo, Yobe. The United Nations’ children’s agency said 48 students and seven teachers died in that attack. Survivors said gunmen rounded up students and staff at the school and placed them in a dormitory before throwing explosives inside and opening fire. What’s more, this isn’t the first time, says Dykstra. “This is about the third or fourth school they’ve targeted in the last month or so. They believe that the students should be getting radical Islamic instruction.”
The European Union condemned the “horrific murder by terrorists”, and the act prompted Britain to put Boko Haram on its terrorist list. Yobe, is one of the three states where the Nigerian government imposed a state of emergency in May. Immediately after the attack, the governor closed all secondary schools.
Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in Hausa. Since they began their effort to Islamize Nigeria in 2001, over 9,000 have died. As a result, Nigeria launched a major offensive against Boko Haram on May 15.
Last year, the focus was churches and Christians. This year, it seems to be the children. Dykstra notes, “According to Open Doors, there were about 30 Christians that attended the school that was burned down. We don’t know, really, how many of those killed were Christians.”
Samaila, a teacher at the school, told Open Doors that he could see scores of parents in shock trying to identify children. An Associated Press journalist also described chaotic scenes at a nearby Potiskum hospital as parents tried to identify their children from among the deceased.
There were two similar attacks on schools in June. On June 16 at a school in Damaturu, Yobe, suspected Boko Haram attackers opened fire on students. A pastor told Open Doors that the attackers arrived at the school asking for the Christian students by name. However, security agents interfered in the attack and the insurgents ended up firing random shots, killing 13 students and teachers. Open Doors has not been able to confirm how many Christians were among the victims.
On June 18 suspected Boko Haram members also opened fire on students at a Muslim school in Maiduguri. Nine students and one medical worker were killed.
“The carnage in Nigeria continues,” says Dykstra. The senseless slaughter is hard to understand, which is why he urges believers to ,”Pray specifically for the violence to stop. The government tried to talk to the Boko Haram leaders, but that didn’t work out. So now, they’re going after them. All these strategies don’t seem to have worked, so we need to put our trust in the Lord.”
Nigeria is ranked No. 13 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.