Britain Condemns Mosque Killing In Borno


British Cabinet Minister Mark Simmonds on Tuesday condemned as “contemptible and cowardly” an attack on a mosque in northeastern Nigeria in which suspected Islamic extremists killed at least 44 worshippers and wounded another 26.

Attackers wearing Nigerian army camouflage fatigues struck under cover of darkness as residents were saying their dawn prayers at around 5:30 a.m. (GMT) Sunday at Konduga town, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Maiduguri, said security agents who insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

Another 12 civilians died in a simultaneous attack on Ngom village just outside Maiduguri, they said.

“Attacking innocent people in a place of worship is a contemptible and cowardly act,” the Foreign Office Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds said in a statement Tuesday.

He said Britain “stands with the government and people of Nigeria as they seek to reduce violence in the north east of the country.”

Sunday’s attacks are the latest in a series blamed on religious extremists wanting to oust the government and install strict Islamic law throughout the nation of more than 160 million people that is about equally divided between a predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south.

The government imposed a state of emergency in three northeastern states and deployed thousands more troops to try to put down the Islamic uprising that poses the greatest threat in years to security and unity in Africa’s largest oil producer.

Nigeria’s war is not Muslims against Christian. The Boko Haram terrorist network - the name means “Western education is forbidden” - has killed more Muslims than Christians, according to officials, attacking mosques and clerics that have spoken out against religious extremism.

Boko Haram also has attacked Christians outside churches and teachers and schoolchildren, as well as government and military targets.

Since 2010, the militants have been blamed for the killings of more than 1,700 people, according to a count by The Associated Press.

The news about Sunday’s violence in Borno state came as journalists received a video featuring Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who gloats over recent attacks, threatens more, and says his group is now strong enough to go after the United States.

A state security service agent and Usman Musa, a member of a civilian militia that works with the military, said Monday they counted the bodies at the mosque after the attack. Musa said four members of his group - known as the Civilian Joint Task Force -also were killed when they reached Konduga and encountered “fierce resistance from heavily armed terrorists.”

Musa and the security service agent said the attackers wore military camouflage uniforms used by the Nigerian army, probably acquired in one of their attacks on military bases.

On their way back from Konduga, the security forces came upon the scene of another attack at Ngom village, 5 kilometers (3 miles) outside Maiduguri, where Musa said he counted 12 bodies of civilians.

Twenty-six worshippers at the mosque were hospitalized with gunshot wounds, said a security guard at the emergency ward of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to give information to reporters.

Nigeria declared a state of emergency covering one-sixth of the country on May 14 to fight the onslaught after Boko Haram fighters took over several northeastern towns and villages, raising their flag and demanding taxes from residents.

The military said it has driven Boko Haram out of most towns and villages.

But the extremists have continued to launch guerrilla-style attacks and bombings.

In the video received by journalists Monday, Shekau brushes off any gains asserted by the security forces.

“You soldiers have claimed that you are powerful, that we have been defeated, that we are mad people,” Shekau says, speaking in the local Hausa language. “But how can a mad man successfully coordinate recent attacks in Gamboru, in Malam Fatori, slaughter people in Biu, kill in Gwoza and in Bama, where soldiers fled under our heavy fire power?

“We have killed countless soldiers and we are going to kill more,” Shekau said in the video.

He further insists the extremists’ “strength and firepower has surpassed that of Nigeria. … We can now comfortably confront the United States of America.”

Shekau also said Nigeria’s military is “lying to the world” about its casualties. “They lied that they have killed our members, but we are the ones that have killed the soldiers.”

Under orders from the military, cellphone and Internet service has been cut in Borno, making communications difficult. The military says the extremists were using cellphones to coordinate attacks. But some government officials argue that the lack of communication prevents civilians from informing them of suspicious movements and getting help when they are attacked.