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by Sharon Rondeau

The nation of Nigeria is split roughly 50-50 between Muslims and Christians

(Dec. 26, 2011) — Several explosions rocked churches in Nigeria on December 25, killing at least 27 people who had attended Christmas Day worship services.

A second report states that 35 lost their lives in a single attack, and the Daily Mail Online has reported 40 deaths.  There was a shortage of ambulances, and the country’s military was summoned to the scene at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, near the nation’s capital of Abuja.

A police station was also attacked, and one officer was killed near the scene of a second church bombing.  One church was bombed twice by attackers.

The Islamic group Boko Haram, which seeks to institute Sharia law throughout Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the attacks and has murdered more than 450 people, and possibly more than 500, earlier this year.

Reporters described one church as having been “packed” when a bomb exploded.  The same organization detonated explosives on Christmas Eve 2010 which killed more than 80.

Some are blaming failed leadership or a “weak central government” for the attacks.  Nigeria’s Christian president, Goodluck Jonathan, took office in February 2010 after the previous president became too ill to maintain the position. On Sunday Jonathan described the attacks as “a dastardly act that must attract the rebuke of all peace-loving Nigerians.”

One reporter described the attacks as evidence of “historic internal religious and regional divides that have often threatened the integrity of Africa’s most populous state.”

One victim was heard to say, “Father, pray for me, I will not survive” as he lay dying on the steps of St. Theresa’s Church.

Boko Haram was formed in 2003, and the translation of its name is “Western education is sinful.”  It is concentrated mainly in Nigeria’s northern region but has carried out attacks throughout “northern and central” Nigeria, reportedly “drawing inspiration from the Afghan Taliban.” Some members reside in other African nations such as Cameroon, Niger and Chad.  The organization’s attacks have reportedly become more complex recently and may have ties to Al Qaeda.

A leader of the group was arrested earlier this month, and another, Mohammed Yusuf, was arrested and killed while attempting to escape from custody.

As of 7:00 p.m. ET, The New York Times reported that two people have been arrested in connection with the Christmas Day bombings.

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