By Nancy Palus
Late Monday, gunmen killed at least 19 people and wounded several others, including children, in an attack on a church in Kogi State, in south-central Nigeria.
Bombings and other kinds of attacks on churches are common in Nigeria, but a local official says this is the first time such an attack has taken place in Kogi, which is farther south than the states previously affected.
Several gunmen reportedly stormed the church, near the city of Okene, in Kogi State, during a worship service on Monday evening.
Jacob Edi, spokesperson for the Kogi State governor, spoke to VOA while on his way to the attack scene. He said that women and children were among the victims.
“Two women are confirmed to have been among the people that died. We don’t know the casualty figures of children yet but a lot of children were wounded.”
Kogi State is about 250 kilometers southwest of the capital, Abuja. The Islamic militant group Boko Haram has claimed a number of attacks on churches and other public venues, mostly in central and northern Nigeria.
Nigeria, with a population of more than 160 million, is roughly divided between a Muslim-dominated north and a Christian-majority south.
Boko Haram says it wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria and does not recognize the Nigerian government or the constitution.
While it is not yet known who carried out Monday’s attack, spokesperson Edi said the incident has people worried that violence common in other parts of Nigeria is now arriving in Kogi.
“This is the first time we are having this major attack on a church in Kogi State. Kogi State is a very peaceful state,” said Edi. “So that is why we are worried that this thing is creeping into this state.”
People in Kogi said it is a generally peaceful region with a mixed Muslim and Christian population. A local journalist said it is common to see households with people of both religions.