This Day (Lagos)

29 December 2011

Nigeria: Bring Terrorists to Justice, Congressman Urges Obama

New York — A member of the United States Congress, Trent Franks (representing Arizona 2nd Congressional District), has called on President Barack Obama to follow through on his pledge to assist Nigeria in bringing all those who committed, what he called, "horrific violence and hatred", on Christmas Day to justice.

A deadly bomb blast targeting St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Madella, a town on the outskirt of Abuja, Nigeria's capital city, had killed not less than 35 people and wounded several others, most of them worshippers who were just leaving church after Christmas day mass.

Another suicide bomb attack at the Yobe State Command Headquarters of the Department of State Security Services (SSS) in Damaturu had claimed the lives of three security operatives, while two other explosions targeting Mountain of Fire and Miracle Church, Jos, Plateau State, that same day, claimed the life of a policeman. A militant religious sect, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for these deadly attacks.

In a statement made available to THISDAY in New York, Franks, one of the founders of the Congressional International Religious Freedom (IRF), which he also co-chairs, said, "The two most fundamental freedoms a person possesses were brutally stolen from dozens of innocent people yesterday - the right to life and the right to religious freedom. Nearly 40 innocent Christian worshippers were tragically murdered on Christmas day, simply because of the faith that they professed."

He said, "This is a clear affront to religious freedom and basic human rights in Nigeria. The attacks transpired on one of the holiest Christian days of the Church year and in the victims' sacred houses of worship."

Citing what he called, "Consistent trends of religious persecution" plaguing Nigeria, Franks said, "Last year, Boko Haram coordinated a series of Christmas Eve bombings in Jos that barbarically killed over 30 precious Nigerians and wounded 74."

The lawmaker, who chairs the Subcommittee on the Constitution and serves on both the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, said, "We know that the stability of Nigeria is severely in question when the peace and security that comes from freedom of religion and the ability to worship without fear of retribution is under acute threat."

Franks called on the Nigerian government to "seriously combat" these acts of terrorism and protect innocent people by fostering transparent rule of law in the country.

Also US-based Nigerians and groups have continued to react to the Christmas day bombings in three Nigerian states. A Washington based human rights lawyer, Emmanuel Ogebe, said, "This is one Christmas bombing too many for Nigerians."

He noted that, "Nigerians were horrified to learn of the attempted terror-bombing of a Delta Flight on Christmas day in 2009 with scores of Nigerians, Americans and other nationals aboard. Then again in 2010 dozens were killed on Christmas day in multiple bombings in Jos. This week's bombings in multiple cities is the third successive such strike that has turned a merry religious holiday into a season of horror and bloodbath."

Ogebe said, "This is no more terror bombings but a full-scale insurgency and an explicit declaration and execution of war on helpless, unarmed and innocent civilian worshippers."

Expressing his concern that the militant sect was effectively intimidating people from going to new year's eve services with its latest threats of more attacks, Ogebe called on Nigerian authorities to deal with the foreign enemy combatants and their local collaborators, who had been perpetrating crimes against humanity on the civilian population and acts of subversion against constituted authority.

He said, "The year 2011 has witnessed horrendous multi-state violence in northern Nigeria remniscent of the sad pre-civil war era. The Boko Haram insurgency has brought us to new low unprecedented in our national life.

"Platitudes and cliches must give way to a coherent national security strategy, global counterterrorism cooperation, and clearly defined military rules of engagement. The government of Nigeria should also hasten to compensate the thousands of displaced victims of the post-election violence who are still languishing 10 months after their loss."

In the same vein, three Washington-based human rights and religious groups - Institute on Religion and Democracy, Jubilee Campaign, and American Center for Law and Justice - have also condemned the attacks and called on "national authorities and the international community to cooperate in combatting this menace that threatens the ability of worshippers to practice their faith without fear of attack."

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