Gunmen stormed a church in northern Nigeria on Thursday and killed six people as they were praying, the pastor said, as an ultimatum from Islamists for Christians in the region to leave expired.
“It was around 7:30pm,” pastor John Jauro said of the attack in the city of Gombe.
“I was leading the congregation in prayers. Our eyes were closed when some gunmen stormed the church and opened fire on the congregation. Six people were killed in the attack and 10 others were wounded,” he said.
The attack comes after a purported spokesman for Islamist group Boko Haram on Sunday issued a three-day ultimatum for Christians living in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north to leave the region.
There was however no claim of responsibility for the attack.
The ultimatum came after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last Saturday declared a state of emergency in parts of four states hit hard by violence blamed on Boko Haram, particularly Christmas bombings that killed 49 people.
Gombe is outside the areas affected by the state of emergency decree.
On Wednesday night, bomb blasts hit two northeastern cities that are included in the emergency declaration.
No casualties were reported after the bomb attacks in Maiduguri and Damaturu, claimed by the same purported spokesman for Boko Haram who issued the ultimatum to Christians.
In a separate incident, two civilians were shot dead on the outskirts of Damaturu, a hospital source said.
The attacks were the first in the state of emergency areas since Jonathan’s declaration in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.
Nigeria’s population of 160 million is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south, but with each area having a millions-strong minority of the other faith.
The Boko Haram spokesman warned on Sunday that in the wake of Jonathan’s emergency decree, the group would confront soldiers and Christians who did not heed the warning to leave.
Nigeria’s police chief Hafiz Ringim issued a statement calling on residents to ignore the ultimatum.
“Nigeria is one united and indivisible entity where citizens are at liberty to reside where they desire and practise whatever faith,” he said.
In the first attack since the state of emergency was declared, but just outside the areas covered by the decree, gunmen attacked a police station in the northern Jigawa state on Tuesday, killing a teenage girl and wounding an officer.
The decree came in response to a wave of attacks attributed to Boko Haram, a shadowy group believed to have various factions with differing aims.
Boko Haram has been blamed for increasingly deadly attacks for months, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that left 25 dead, the Christmas violence sparked intense fear and outrage.