Islamist militants trying to establish a sharia-ruled state in Nigeria went on a bloody two-day shooting and bombing spree, including attacking a Christian church service, with news agencies reporting death tolls ranging from 62 (Reuters) to 74 (BBC) and 99 (AP).
The attackers killed at least 22 Christian worshippers during a five-hour siege at a church service on Sunday and then burned down hundreds of homes, took hostages and set off bombs in two separate villages.
The carefully planned attacks in northeast Nigeria are suspected to be the work of the Islamist sect Boko Haram.
The Associated Press reported that the militants using explosives and heavy guns stormed a Catholic church during Sunday mass in the village of Wada Chakawa.
Residents told the AP that the siege lasted five hours, with gunmen firing into the church, setting off bombs and taking hostages.
Catholic Diocese of Yola spokesman The Rev. Raymond Danbouye told Reuters that 22 were killed in the attack.
However, local Chairman Maina Ularamu told the AP that 45 bodies were recovered including those of two police officers.
Village resident Moses Apogu said, “They used explosives during the attack on worshippers, and many people lost their lives.”
“Another resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said some of the people taken away were later killed,” the AP reported.
In another village, Kawuri, dozens were killed during a shooting, bombing and burning spree. News reports conflicted, with Reuters reporting that 40 were killed on Monday and the AP reporting that 52 were killed on Sunday night near the village’s weekly market as vendors were packing up their wares.
An unnamed Nigerian security official told the AP that the entire village of about 300 homes was burned down.
One resident who escaped, Ari Kolomi, told the AP, “No house was left standing.” He estimated that some 50 militants were involved in the attack.
Other residents said the gunmen shot anyone trying to flee the village.
Bulama Kuliri, who managed to narrowly escape described the devastating scene to Reuters: “The whole village has been razed by Boko Haram and there were still loud explosions from different directions as I left, with bodies littering the village.”
A security official said that two improvised explosive devices that were left behind exploded on Monday morning, as security personnel were collecting the bodies of those killed the night before.
Though no group claimed responsibility for the attacks, at least one Nigerian security official blamed Boko Haram.
The group whose name means “Western education is forbidden” has been engaged in an uprising against the government of President Goodluck Jonathan since 2009, killing thousands in a country made up of Christians and Muslims.