Violence in Nigeria has taken another 19 lives after members of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram engaged in a gunfight with government soldiers Tuesday evening in the cities of Kano and Maiduguri.
Maiduguri was reported as the site of the heaviest attacks, with bomb blasts echoing through the city as soldiers battled with the suspected armed terrorists. According to Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, a military spokesman, all those who died were Boko Haram members. The clashes resulted after soldiers attempted to raid suspected hideouts of the radical group, Al Jazeera reported.
The gunfight comes two days after Boko Haram members attacked a church in Nigeria with a car bomb on Sunday, killing a dozen Christians. Another eight civilian protesters were shot dead by the military trying to maintain law and order at the blast site.
"We serve a God of vengeance who has vowed to avenge the saints. He will descend his instrument of death on the camp of the enemy. We invoke the vengeance of God on the radical Islamic group Boko Haram and their sponsors," declared Bishop David Oyedepo after Sunday's casualties.
The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed to challenge the militant group, and Tuesday's siege may send the message that the military is ready to fight back against radicals who have been attacking Christians across the country for over a year.
One civilian in the neighborhood where the fighting took place shared that a number of people had been struck by stray bullets in the fighting.
"I almost got home, but I saw soldiers shooting and I had to run back on foot," said the man, who was not identified over fears of being targeted by Boko Haram.
Some have suggested that although the Islamist group has mainly targeted Christians, Nigeria has not so much of a holy war on its hands. Instead, observers say the violence is symptomatic of the government's failure to clamp down on dangerous groups and restore order in the country.
"It is coming out more clearly that Boko Haram have had links with the Islamic terrorist organizations like the al-Qaida, the Taliban and their counterparts in Somalia, the Al Shabab," said Nigerian Roman Catholic Archbishop John Onaiyekan to the Christian Science Monitor. "But it would never have had the power or the amount of local support it seems to enjoy if not for other, more fundamental issues, particularly local alienation over bad governance," he added.
Boko Haram's ability to carry out attacks across northern Nigeria "has introduced completely new dimensions of religious conflict in our nation, new in intensity and ideology," the bishop noted.