ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A top Christian leader in Nigeria warned Wednesday that worshippers would abandon their restraint if a campaign of suicide car bombings and gun assaults by a radical Islamist sect doesn't stop.
The comments by Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of an umbrella group known as the Christian Association of Nigeria, come as attacks by the sect known as Boko Haram grow in size and complexity, killing dozens at a time while the country's weak central government appears unable to stop the violence. It also underscores the long-simmering tensions in Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people largely divided between the two faiths.
Speaking to journalists in Nigeria's capital Abuja, Oritsejafor said his comments should be taken as a "final call" to the government to take action.
"The church leadership has hitherto put great restraint on the restive and aggrieved millions of Nigerians, but can no longer guarantee such cooperation if this trend of terror is not halted immediately," he said.
He did not elaborate on his comments.
It isn't the first time Oritsejafor has hinted at the possibility of retaliatory violence over Boko Haram attacks. In January, he told journalists that Christians would "work out means to defend ourselves against these senseless killings."
While merely words, they reflect a growing frustration among Christians in Nigeria, who now attend Sunday church services that require passing through metal detectors and navigating informal roadblocks set up to stop suicide car bombers. Muslim groups have roundly condemned the ongoing attacks.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's largely Muslim north, is blamed for killing more than 480 people — both Christian and Muslim — this year alone in Nigeria, according to an Associated Press count.
Diplomats and military officials say Boko Haram has links with two other al-Qaida-aligned terrorist groups in Africa. Members of the sect also reportedly have been spotted in northern Mali, where Tuareg rebels and hardline Islamists seized control over the past month.
In its most recent attack, the sect claimed a suicide car bombing at the Abuja office of the influential newspaper ThisDay, as well as a bombing at an office the paper shares with other publications in Kaduna. At least seven people were killed in the blasts. A video released Thursday by Boko Haram promised more attacks against the media over what it describes as unfair reporting on the group.
On Wednesday, Inspector Gen. M.D. Abubakar of Nigeria's federal police force issued orders to state police commissioners to increase security around offices of newspapers and broadcasters over the threat. Nigeria police spokesman Frank Mba said it would be up to individual organizations to decide whether to allow armed police officers at their offices.
Meanwhile, officers of the State Security Service, Nigeria's secret police, showed journalists a man they said provided bomb-making materials to Boko Haram in Kano, a city that saw at least 185 people killed in a sect attack in January. Officials said a suspect in custody led them to the man and an investigation continued into his activities.
Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria and Salisu Rabiu in Kano, Nigeria contributed to this report.