Christmas church bombings put global spotlight on 'Nigerian Taliban' (VIDEO)

The US is pledging to help Nigeria identify those responsible for a series of attacks that left at least 40 people dead on Christmas day.

Sunday Aghaeze/AP
Christmas bombing: Onlookers gather around a destroyed car at the site of a bomb blast at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, Nigeria, Christmas day. The explosion ripped through a Catholic church during Christmas Mass killing at least 40 people, officials said.

Nigerian officials and world leaders offered condemnation on Monday for those responsible for a string of Christmas day bombings across Nigeria that killed at least 40 people and injured dozens. The worst attack occurred at a church near the nation’s capital of Abuja.

The attacks were pinned to Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic extremist organization that also claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in Nigeria during Christmas Eve last year.

Coming just days after 60 people died in a gun battle between the Islamic insurgents and government forces, the Christmas attack has shone harsh light to mounting tensions in Nigeria and raised concerns that more attacks could be soon to come.

“Nigeria must intensify its efforts in the area of security and guarantee freedom of movement and worship,” said the Rev. Isaac Achi, the priest from the bombed church, according to the Los Angeles Times

[ Video is no longer available. ]

Including the Christmas bombing, Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for attacks that resulted in the death of 504 people in Nigeria this year alone. The group, which has been nicknamed the “Nigerian Taliban,” aims to bring the African nation under Islamic law, reports the Daily Telegraph. Africa’s biggest oil producer and most populous nation, Nigeria’s northern region is predominately Muslim while the southern half of the country is mostly Christian.

Scores killed in months

Though Boko Haram has existed since 2002, Australia’s Sky News reports that violence attributed to the group has risen sharply in recent months. In a series of increasingly complex bombings the group has killed more than 280 people since November. The government has made a number of well-publicized arrests of Boko Haram members and raided some of their bomb making factories, but it appears to have had little impact on the group’s operational capabilities.

Several prominent Nigerians have openly criticized the government following the Christmas attack, saying it lacks the “competent” leadership required to effectively solve the country’s security problems.

“This is clearly a failure of leadership at a time the government needs to assure the people of the capacity to guarantee the safety of lives and property,” said Muhammadu Buhari, a former Nigerian presidential candidate in an article by Reuters.

Though Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks and there are many other indications that the group is likely behind them, there remains some speculation that another anti-government group may have carried out the bombings.

“We are looking beyond Boko Haram because other people bent on destabilizing the government might be doing these things in the name of Boko Haram,” said Richard Oguche, a Nigerian police spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

Boko Haram's real name

The name of the group Boko Haram roughly translates to "western education is a sin." According to John Campbell, former US ambassador to Nigeria, "they don't call themselves Boko Haram at all. They call themselves roughly, the way of the Sunna and Jihad. Sunna here refers to law."

Boko Haram, explains Mr. Campbell, is a moniker given by the media and government officials, who often reflexively blame the group for violent incidents that happen in the north.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan spoke out against the attacks, calling them “an unwarranted affront on our [Nigeria’s] collective safety and freedom,” reports the BBC. He added, “Nigerians must stand as one to condemn them.”

World leaders from the United Nations, the United States, Europe, and the Vatican, among others were quick to offer their support to the Nigerian government. White House officials called the attack “senseless” and pledged to help bring those who perpetrated it to justice, reports Al Jazeera.

“We are close to the suffering of the Nigerian Church and the entire Nigerian people so tried by terrorist violence, even in these days that should be of joy and peace,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Get daily or weekly updates from delivered to your inbox. Sign up today.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.