Nigerian state slaps 24-hour curfew after church attacks

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A northeastern Nigerian state where attacks on Christians left around 30 people dead was put under round-the-clock curfew Saturday amid a new wave of violence blamed on Islamists.

President Goodluck Jonathan a week ago placed parts of northeast Nigeria under emergency rule in a bid to curb escalating violence after 49 people were killed on Christmas Day, most of them at a Catholic church.

The move has not stopped attacks, with Islamist sect Boko Haram targeting more Christians and a regional police headquarters in recent days, heightening fears of of widespread religious violence in Africa's most populous nation.

"Following spates of attacks in some parts of the state, the government hereby imposes a 24-hour curfew throughout the state," Adamawa state government secretary Kobis Ari said.

More than 30 Christians were gunned down in three separate attacks attributed to Boko Haram in Adamawa state and neighbouring Gombe state, which are not part of the region where the emergency rule is in force.

Eleven worshippers were killed Friday evening at a church in Adamawa's state capital Yola, and 17 other Christians were shot dead in Mubi town in the same state.

On Thursday evening, gunmen had stormed a church in Gombe city and opened fire as worshippers prayed, killing six people including the pastor's wife.

The attacks followed an ultimatum issued last Sunday by the Islamists ordering Christians to leave the mainly Muslim north for the predominantly Christian south within three days.

Soldiers and police have deployed in Yola erecting checkpoints at strategic positions, state police spokeswoman Altine Daniel said.

"We have mobilised all our men for this task of maintaining law and order," she added.

In Potiskum, further north in Yobe state, hundreds of residents fled their homes Saturday after all-night gun battles between Islamists and security forces.

A policeman and a civilian were killed when the gunmen robbed three banks, according to residents. They said people had fled Potiskum for fear of military raids in the aftermath of the attack.

"Our men engaged Boko Haram gunmen in shootouts for most of the night, which led to some deaths and injuries," Yobe state police commissioner Lawan Tanko said.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden", is a shadowy group believed to have a number of factions with differing aims, including a hard-core Islamist wing.

It launched an uprising in 2009 that was put down by a brutal military assault which left some 800 people dead.

Since the group re-emerged in 2010, it has been blamed for increasingly sophisticated and deadly attacks, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed 25.

There have been fears of reprisals from Christians, and Christian leaders have warned they will defend themselves if attacks continue.

© 2012 AFP

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