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Islamic State West Africa Claims Responsibility for Bombing that Targeted Christians

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The Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) armed group has claimed responsibility for an explosion that killed six people and seriously wounded 19 others last month at a market where alcohol was sold in Nigeria's eastern Taraba state.

One attacker was also killed, according to Abdullahi Usman, police spokesperson in Taraba. 

The attack occurred on April 20 at a busy cattle market in the Ardo-Kola local government area of Taraba state where villages have been largely unaffected in the last year by the decade-long Islamic extremist violence in the northeast.

Many traders saw their goods destroyed in the attack, said Ladan Ayuba with Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency.

In a statement posted last week on a Telegram messaging channel used by ISWAP, the group described those who detonated the bomb in the market as "soldiers of the caliphate in central Nigeria."  

The statement said the attack had struck "a gathering of infidel Christians" and expressed satisfaction that the place where alcohol could be purchased had been destroyed.  

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ISWAP, an offshoot of Boko Haram, has described its operatives as "soldiers of the caliphate in central Nigeria," according to Morning Star News

While ISWAP has long carried out assaults in northeastern Nigeria, the Islamic extremists had not been active in Taraba until the attack, which was followed by another on April 22.  An Abubakar Shekau-led faction of Boko Haram in 2016 formally aligned with the Islamic State and changed its name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), though many Nigerians still refer to the Shekau-led faction of ISWAP by its original name, Boko Haram.

The Islamic State recognizes the ISWAP faction that broke away from Shekau as its cell in the region, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

The Rev. Dr. Isaiah Magaji Jirapye, chairman of the Taraba state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), condemned the attack in a statement, saying the "federal government is not doing enough to win the fight against terrorism in the country as each day the terrorists keep on advancing. To this end, CAN wants the federal government to immediately adopt workable strategies against any form of terrorist organizations in the country and stop their migration, as several of them have migrated to Taraba state."

Northern Nigeria has been plagued with violent attacks in recent months and this is the second explosion in Taraba this year. The first was in January which targeted a Catholic school though no lives were lost in that incident.

The West African nation continues to grapple with a 10-year-old insurgency by Islamic extremist rebels in the northeast. More than 35,000 have died and millions have been displaced by the violence, according to the U.N. Development Program. 

Boko Haram and a splinter group, Islamic State in West Africa Province, are fighting to establish strict Shariah law.

Nigerian security forces are often outnumbered and outgunned by the armed groups in the volatile northeast, says security analysts.

The militants in Nigeria's northeast often explode bombs at marketplaces in remote communities in violence that has largely centered on Borno state and the Lake Chad region in the last year.

In addition to the extremist rebellion in the northeast, Nigeria is also beset by growing violence from rebels in the northwest.

Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith last year at 4,650, up from 3,530 the previous year, according to Open Doors' 2022 World Watch List.  Nigeria is currently listed at number 7 in the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. 

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