LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Gunmen attacked a village in northeast Nigeria early Christmas morning, killing at least five people in the latest violence to hit a region long under attack by a radical Islamist sect, the military said Tuesday.
The attack happened in a village just west of the city of Potiskum in Yobe state, military spokesman Lt. Eli Lazarus said. The gunmen opened fire in the hours before dawn, also wounding at least four people.
Confusion surrounded the attack. Mobile phone reception remains poor in the region after repeated attacks by the Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. Lazarus told The Associated Press that the gunmen opened fire at a church in the village. Yobe state police spokesman Salihu Adamu earlier told the AP that officers believed the attack happened elsewhere in the village. Adamu also said that police authorities had yet to confirm how many people had been killed.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though suspicion immediately fell on Boko Haram. The sect, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's Muslim north, is waging an increasingly bloody campaign of guerrilla attacks against the nation's weak central government. The sect says it wants Nigeria to enact strict Shariah law and release its imprisoned members. Despite a heavy military and police presence, the sect has been able to launch frequent attacks.
More than 770 people have been killed in Boko Haram attacks so far this year, according to an Associated Press count, making 2012 the worst year of violence attributed to the group. Boko Haram also has loose connections with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia's al-Shabab, according to Western military officials and diplomats.
On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy warned citizens living in Nigeria that violence over Christmas was likely, as Boko Haram attacked a Catholic church near capital and other locations last year, killing at least 44 people. However, the holiday was largely quietly throughout the country Tuesday, as police, military and emergency management officials said they stood on standby for possible unrest.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .