Nigerian city under curfew after church massacre, gun battle

AFP , Wednesday 8 Aug 2012

Nigerian authorities impose a curfew on Okene city after a church massacre and a gunfight between militants and troops left at least 23 people dead

Authorities in Nigeria's Kogi state have slapped a dusk-to-dawn curfew on a key city after a church massacre and a gunfight between militants and troops left at least 23 people dead, officials said Wednesday.

The spate of violence in Okene in central Nigeria began on Monday night, when gunmen stormed an evangelical church, cut the electricity and opened fire once the building was plunged into darkness, killing 19 people.

On Tuesday in Okene's city centre, assailants shot at troops on patrol, sparking an exchange of fire that left two soldiers and two of the gunmen dead, Kogi state police spokesman Simon Ile said.

"The curfew is imposed in all of Okene, from dusk to dawn," said Jacob Edi, spokesman for the state governor.

Motorcycle taxi drivers are also barred from operating in Okene and the state capital Lokoja during night hours, he told AFP, adding that state was calm on Wednesday.

It was not clear who carried out the church killings or whether the two attacks were linked, although Ile said there was "suspicion" that the same group was responsible for both assaults.

Boko Haram, a radical group of Islamist insurgents, has repeatedly targeted Christians during church worship as well as the security forces in a series of gun raids and suicide blasts.

The group has killed more than 1,400 people since 2010 in attacks across northern and central Nigeria, according to a new toll released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch.

Boko Haram has said it wants to create an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, but its stated demands have varied widely.

The US State Department last month designated three of the group's leaders as global terrorists and the top American diplomat, Hillary Clinton, currently on an Africa tour, is expected in Abuja on Thursday for talks in which security concerns are likely to feature prominently.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

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