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Eight Christians killed leaving church as violence escalates in Nigeria

Nigerian soldier, pictured in 2015, manning a checkpoint in Gwoza, Nigeria (AP)

Islamic extremists said on Tuesday they killed more than 40 troops from a multi-national force in an attack on a convoy in north-east Nigeria — the fourth attack in three days following a lull as Nigeria’s home-grown insurgency confronts a leadership struggle.

There were three earlier attacks on Sunday and Monday that led to the deaths of 18 people. Eight Christians were gunned down leaving a church service on Sunday, while there was also a further ambush on a convoy and a village leader and his son were beheaded. No one has claimed responsibility for these killings.

Analysts are warning that the leadership struggle could lead to more violent attacks that will kill more people in a seven-year-old Islamic uprising started by Boko Haram that has killed more than 20,000 people, forced 2.6 million from their homes and spread to neighbouring states.

On Tuesday, ISIS’s West Africa Province annihilated “a convoy of the African Coalition Crusader forces” in the town of Malam Fatori, the SITE Intelligence Group reported, translating an ISIS communique posted on social media. There was no way to independently verify the claim and no word from Nigeria’s military late on Tuesday night.

The attack was the first Nigeria attack claimed by the ISIS group since August, when it named a new caliph in Nigeria and provoked a struggle with the longtime leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau.

Shekau pledged Boko Haram’s allegiance to ISIS in 2015, giving it its first sub-Saharan franchise. ISIS said it replaced Shekau in August, in a dispute that revolved around his indiscriminate killings of Muslims.

Many more Muslims than Christians have been killed in attacks targeting mosques, churches, marketplaces and schools.

Tuesday’s ISIS communique did not say when the convoy was attacked but claimed it “resulted in killing more than forty and wounding dozens” of troops from Nigeria and neighboring countries. The multi-national force is also battling Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic insurgents who have spread their extremist uprising to Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Analysts from IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre warned the recent lull and drop in fatalities likely will be followed by increased cross-border attacks.

In the leadership struggle, Shekau has reverted to the old name for his group, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” They are commonly called Boko Haram, a nickname that means “Western education is forbidden or evil.”