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Oil Militants Threaten Terror Campaign To Defend Nigerian Christians

(UPDATED) With president's amnesty committee underway, Nigeria's Muslims emphasize distance from Boko Haram.

Update (July 2): Voice of America (VOA) reports that the amnesty committee set up by Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan to help broker peace between Boko Haram insurgents and the government is "calling for Islamic leaders to help bridge the gap between the government and militants. But Islamic leaders say Boko Haram violence is unfairly associated with the Muslim religion."

But Nigeria's Muslims are dissociating themselves from Boko Haram and its violent campaign. VOA reports that Nigeria's leading Muslim cleric, Sultan of Sokoto Muhammed Sa'adu Abubakar, says "criminal acts are not religious acts, just because criminals claim them to be so."

According to Human Rights Watch, Boko Haram is responsible for more than 3,600 deaths of Muslims and Christians alike since 2009. "But before anyone can be punished, or given amnesty, whoever is responsible for the Boko Haram carnage has to be caught or come to the table. And they don't appear to be interested," VOA reports.

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The latest terrorist threats to come out of Nigeria aren't being propagated by Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group bent on eradicating Christianity (and other Western influences). Instead, the threats from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) are being made "in defence of Christianity."

MEND, a militant group operating out of the country's oil-rich Niger Delta, says it intends to attack Muslims in order to protect Nigeria's "hapless Christian population." The planned attacks, which MEND says will begin on May 31, will include mosque and hajj bombings and assassination attempts against Muslim clerics.

MEND says its campaign–termed "Operation Barbarossa"–will commence unless:

the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Catholic Church and Henry Okah, one of the few leaders in the Niger Delta region we respect for his integrity, intervenes. Also, the assurance for a cessation of hostilities targeted at Christians in their places of worship, made privately or publicly by the real Boko Haram leadership will make us call off this crusade.

But a ceasefire from Boko Haram may be unlikely, given that Christians in Nigeria have rejected the government's consideration of amnesty to Boko Haram, saying the group "is faceless and does not deserve pardon." Even the youth wing of CAN has stated "that young Christians have not responded to Boko Haram violence in kind because the Christian Association of Nigeria has forbidden it."

The back-and-forth religious violence has prompted a response from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which called this morning for the Nigerian government to strengthen its prosecution of perpetrators. "While since 1999 more than 14,000 persons, both Muslims and Christians, have been killed, USCIRF has been able to document that only 1% of the perpetrators have been prosecuted," USCIRF stated. "Additionally, Boko Haram, which has killed more Muslims than Christians over the past few years, has used Christian attacks on Muslims to justify its attacks on Christians."

CT previously has reported on Boko Haram's violent attacks throughout Nigeria, including bombings at an elite military church and at Mubi Polytechnic University. Christian leaders planned to take Boko Haram before the International Criminal Court last year, after the death toll from attacks rose to nearly 500. More recently, though, CT reported on how the split between CAN and Catholic leaders in Nigeria could be benefitting the Islamists.

Posted:April 15, 2013 at 12:31PM
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