While Western media has been transfixed by the attacks and hostage taking conducted by Islamic extremists in Paris, in Nigeria's northern Borno state, another Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, has been conducting an unprecedented rampage this week that may have claimed as many as 2,000 lives. Thousands more have been driven into flight; officials in neighboring Chad report that at least 3,000 Nigerians have taken refuge within its borders.
"The attack on Baga and surrounding towns, looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the group," said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International. "If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as 2,000 civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught against the civilian population.
"We are currently working to find out more details of what happened during the attack on Baga and the surrounding area," he added. "This attack reiterates the urgent need for Boko Haram to stop the senseless killing of civilians and for the Nigerian government to take measures to protect a population who live in constant fear of such attacks."
In addition to the mounting human casualties, church officials in Nigeria report that Catholic churches have been burned in the city of Baga and in the surrounding villages.
"I received a message of the Christians Association of Nigeria, the association of Christian churches in Nigeria, which states that in that area Boko Haram has burned several churches and caused numerous victims," Father Patrick Tor Alumuku, Director of Social Communications of the Archdiocese of Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, told Agenzia Fides.
The Boko Haram group attacked Baga town on Jan. 7. In recent days it had overrun a military base, driving off a multinational military task force in charge of ensuring the safety of the area. National media report hundreds of casualties among civilians. Father Alumuku told Fides such figures are ordinarily downplayed by the Nigerian government. "One must bare in mind that the presidential election campaign for February has opened this week. The situation is particularly delicate," he said.
He added, "When those of Boko Haram arrive in a major city, they make no distinction between Christians and Muslims, and the population flees, without distinction of religion. Boko Haram separates Muslims from Christians only in the smaller villages."
"Next to the combatants from Nigeria, Boko Haram has been strengthened by jihadist members from Libya and Mali," he said. "Their goal is to create a caliphate in northern Nigeria."