Gunmen attacked a village in northeastearn Nigeria early on Christmas morning, killing at least five people in the latest violence to hit a region long under attack by a radical Islamist sect, the Nigerian military said on Tuesday.
The attack happened in a village just west of the city of Potiskum in Yobe State, military spokesman Lieutenant Eli Lazarus said. The gunmen opened fire in the hours before dawn, also wounding at least four people.
Confusion surrounded the attack. Cellphone reception remains poor in the region after repeated attacks by an Islamist sect known as Boko Haram.
Lazarus said that the gunmen opened fire at a church in the village. Yobe State police spokesman Salihu Adamu earlier said that officers believed the attack happened elsewhere in the village. Adamu also said that police authorities had yet to confirm how many people had been killed.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though suspicion immediately fell on Boko Haram. The sect, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the Hausa language of Nigeria’s Muslim north, is waging an increasingly bloody campaign of guerrilla attacks against the nation’s weak central government.
The sect says it wants Nigeria to enact strict Shariah law and release its imprisoned members. Despite a heavy military and police presence, the sect has been able to launch frequent attacks.
More than 770 people have been killed in Boko Haram attacks so far this year, according to an Associated Press count, making this the worst year of violence attributed to the group.
Boko Haram is said to have loose connections to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia’s al-Shabaab, Western military officials and diplomats say.
On Saturday, the US embassy warned citizens living in Nigeria that violence over Christmas was likely, given that Boko Haram attacked a Catholic church near the capital and other locations last year, killing at least 44 people.
However, the holiday was largely quiet throughout the country on Tuesday, said police, military and emergency management officials as they stood on standby for possible unrest.