MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Christian Examiner) -- Suspected Islamist militants opened fire in a remote town in northeast Nigeria, killing at least 15 people. The attacked occurred Monday in Kautikari, according to witnesses and a security source, and came just after many had celebrated Christmas mass. Kautikari is near the Cameroon border, just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the village of Chibok, where more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted in April. They remain captives.
"There were about 20, well-armed. They came in four-wheel drive vehicles and some motorcycles. Initially, I thought they were soldiers," survivor Jonah Umarusaid told Reuters. "The man running behind me was gunned down as I was fleeing. Afterwards, there were 15 people lying dead in the streets."
This most recent incidence of violence comes just after many of the country's Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ during Christmas services. At least 5,000 of the churchgoers were displaced from Boko Haram's terrorist attacks in neighboring Adamawa.
"The Catholic faithful went to Christmas Mass, majority of whom are IDPs from the Adamawa part of the diocese (Pulka, Madagali, Gulak, MichiKa, Mubi), to express their faith in an eloquent manner," Fr. Gideon Obasogie told Fides News Agency.
Some of the faithful "have no homes" and "are forced to live in a state of hopelessness," Obasogie said — still, they celebrated Christmas "with great joy and faith" despite rumors of suicide bombers and other dangers.
The Christmas message was delivered by the Bishop of Maiduguri, His Exc. Mgr. Oliver Dashe Doeme.
It "was one of great consolation, that their sorrowful hearts were transformed into foundations of great bliss as he assured them of the fact that their names were written in the book of life in heaven even as they suffer pains and rejection on earth," Obasogie recalled.
Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have kidnapped 172 women and children and killed 35 other people this month in region, according to reports.
Boko Haram, which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, has killed 10,340 people so far this year, according to a count by the Council on Foreign Relations last month.
The five-year-old insurgency has also displaced more than a million people from the remote northeast. It is considered the gravest threat to the stability of Africa's biggest economy and top oil producer -- and its neighbors.