Nigeria. ISIL affiliate charged in church massacre | Conflict News
Lagos, Nigeria – The Nigerian government has accused an ISIL-affiliated armed group in the country of carrying out an attack that killed dozens of worshipers at a church.
Security experts, however, expressed skepticism about the claim.
Responsibility for Sunday’s deadly bomb and gun attack in Owo town, Ondo state, which killed at least 40 worshipers, lay with the Islamic State in the province of West Africa (ISWAP), according to Nigerian officials.
The accusation was brought to the press by Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola after a meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday in the capital Abuja. The minister added that the armed forces are looking for the perpetrators.
However, the armed group has yet to claim responsibility for Sunday morning’s attack, and analysts noted this was unusual as ISWAP is known to be quick to take credit for past violence.
“I think we should be careful,” Vincent Foucher, a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research, told Al Jazeera. “It’s best not to pin them too fast because they usually claim and they usually claim pretty fast.”
ISWAP is credited with several deadly incidents in northeastern Nigeria, its main sphere of operations. But recently, the armed group has expanded its attacks elsewhere.
Last month, he claimed responsibility for an assault on a cultural event in Kogi state, as well as a bomb attack in Taraba state that killed 30 people.
Data on the number of casualties Nigeria has suffered from ISWAP attacks are hard to come by, but there has been an increase in its operations.
Security analysts have noted the possibility of its expansion into the south of the country. However, some say the Owo massacre could have been perpetrated by another group.
“There is a time lapse because ISWAP [readily] claims responsibility for their attacks,” Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja Center for Democracy and Development, a think tank, told Al Jazeera.
“It raises their profile within the Islamic State hierarchy. They love publicity,” she said.
Foucher pointed to discrepancies between Owo’s attack and others for which the group took credit.
“I find [it] a bit strange because it’s not just the same style of attack – they use multiple attackers and it wasn’t just about throwing explosives,” Foucher said.
“Their network is not strong in the south and I don’t think they would expose a group of around five or six attackers just for one attack. They would make more economical use of their personnel.
Expansion of armed groups?
While religiously motivated attacks are rare in southern Nigeria, ISWAP would not be the first group to want to expand its area of operations.
The Boko Haram armed group has attacked areas in Niger, Abuja, Kano and other states. In 2015, the Department of State Services, the country’s intelligence agency, said it had arrested members in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city.
But analysts say the expansion of armed groups in the south is unlikely to materialize due to a lack of local support and inadequate logistics.
“It’s really going to be a challenge, [however]that doesn’t mean they can’t get away with doing attacks like [Owo]”, said Foucher.
Observers say religion could be a reason for the Owo attack, noting religious differences between northern and southern Nigeria. But Aregbesola, the interior minister, said the massacre had no religious origin.
While Hassan is skeptical that the government is pointing the finger at ISWAP for being behind the church attack, she said officials may try to put out the flames from the retaliatory attacks, which have been reported. after Sunday’s bloodshed.
“I think the government could calm the nerves because there have been reports of retaliatory attacks in some parts of the state,” Hassan told Al Jazeera.