(CNSNews.com) - Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said Monday that “religion is not driving extremist violence” in Nigeria--just one day after a Christian church conducting an Easter service was targeted by a car bombing that left 39 dead.
Similarly, on Christmas Day, the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, attacked a Catholic church in that country, killing more than 40 people.
“I want to take this opportunity to stress one key point and that is that religion is not driving extremist violence either in Jos or northern Nigeria,” Assistant Secretary of State Carson said Monday at a forum on U.S. policy toward Nigeria held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
“While some seek to inflame Muslim-Christian tensions, Nigeria’s ethnic and religious diversity, like our own in this country, is a source of strength, not weakness,” he added, "and there are many examples across Nigeria of communities working across religious lines to protect one another.”
On Easter Sunday a church in Kaduna, Nigeria, was targeted by a suicide bombing that killed 39 and wounded dozens. Though no organization has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it is suspected that Boko Haram, the Islamic terrorist organization, was behind it.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, Boko Haram, whose name translated into “Western education is forbidden,” has links to al-Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and has repeatedly vowed to cleanse northern Nigeria of minority Christians, and is responsible for more than 1,000 deaths since mid-2009.
Carson spoke at length about the terrorist group, saying Boko Haram “capitalizes on popular frustrations with the nation’s leaders,” and “seeks to humiliate and undermine the government and to exploit religious differences in order to create chaos and to make Nigeria ungovernable.”
Boko Haram was responsible for multiple bomb attacks including the Jan. 20 attack in Kano, which killed nearly 200, a Christmas Day attack on a church near the federal capital, Abuja, which cost more than 40 lives, and a car bomb at the United Nations headquarters in the Nigeria capital of Abuja last August.
“Boko Haram’s attacks on churches and mosques are particularly disturbing because they are intended to inflame religious tensions and upset the nation’s social cohesion, although Boko Haram is reviled throughout Nigeria and offers no practical solutions to the country’s problems,” Carson said.
In February, Boko Haram killed five in a gun attack on a mosque in Kano, according to reports in the Nigerian newspaper, The Nation. The terrorist group routinely targets Christians, “but police stations and mosques deemed ‘insufficiently Islamic’ were also attacked last year, according to CNN.
In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 27, Carson previously stated that, “It is important to note that religion is not the primary driver behind extremist violence in Nigeria,” and that Boko Haram “attempts to exploit the legitimate grievances of northern populations to garner recruits and public sympathy.”
Last Friday, ahead of the Easter attacks, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a press release expressing “deep concern” about threats from Boko Haram before the Christian holiday and described the group as espousing “an extreme and violent interpretation of Islam.”
“These threats,” USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo said, “should be taken seriously, especially given Boko Haram’s coordinated attacks on Christmas Day, when suicide bombers attacked churches in five different cities in central and northern Nigeria.”
“USCIRF commends Nigerian religious leaders who have condemned Boko Haram’s religiously-motivated violence and urges continued interreligious condemnation of threats or attacks in the name of religion,” the release stated.
During his remarks Carson also said Boko Haram is “not a monolithic homogeneous organization.” Boko Haram is “a larger organization focused primarily on discrediting the Nigerian government, and a smaller more dangerous group increasingly sophisticated and increasingly lethal,” he said.
“This group has developed links with AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] and has a broader anti-Western Jihadist agenda.”