VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday appealed for “an end to all violence” in Nigeria after deadly attacks by Islamists claimed at least 150 lives in the north of the country.
The attacks Friday targeted Christian churches as well as police stations and an army base in Damaturu and Maiduguri and two small towns.
“I follow with apprehension the tragic events reported in recent days in Nigeria,” the pope said after his weekly Angelus prayer.
“While I pray for the victims, I ask for an end to all violence, which does not resolve problems but increases them, sowing hatred and divisions, even among the faithful,” the pontiff added.
The attacks, two days ahead of Sunday’s Muslim feast of Eid el-Adha, were among the deadliest ever carried out by Boko Haram, an Islamist sect based in the north of Africa’s most populous country.
Nigeria’s northern region is predominantly Muslim, with pockets of Christians.
Six churches were bombed in addition to a police station in a mainly Christian neighbourhood of Damaturu called Jerusalem, according to residents.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western Education Is Sin” in the regional Hausa language, has targeted police and military, community and religious leaders, as well as politicians in past attacks.
The sect, which wants to see the establishment of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, staged an uprising which was brutally put down by security forces in 2009.
It claimed responsibility for the August 26 suicide bombing at the United Nations’ headquarters in the capital Abuja that killed 24.
Nigeria’s more than 160 million people are divided almost in half between Muslims and Christians, living roughly in the north and south of the country respectively. Regions where they overlap are prey to frequent tensions.
Islamic Sharia law was reintroduced to 12 northern Nigerian states in 2000.