Islamist group gives Christians in the north of the country an ultimatum to leave and threaten to confront troops after the president declared a state of emergency.
Boko Haram spokesman sends threat to Nigeria's Christians
MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA // A purported spokesman for the Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram, has issued an ultimatum to Christians in the country's north and threatened to confront troops after the president declared a state of emergency in hard-hit areas.
Abul Qaqa - who has spoken on behalf of the group, which is blamed for scores of attacks in Africa's most populous nation, numerous times in the past - said he would give southerners in the north a three-day ultimatum to leave.
"We find it pertinent to state that soldiers will only kill innocent Muslims in the local government areas where the state of emergency was declared," he said on Sunday.
"We would confront them squarely to protect our brothers," he added. "We also wish to call on our fellow Muslims to come back to the north because we have evidence that they would be attacked.
"We are also giving a three-day ultimatum to the southerners living in the northern part of Nigeria to move away."
Boko Haram is believed to include different factions with varying aims, its structure remains unclear and other people have claimed to speak on its behalf.
Nigeria population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
Muslims have been victims of Boko Haram attacks, but a wave of Christmas-day bombings particularly targeting churches set off fears of retaliation from Christians.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on Saturday in parts of four states hard hit by violence blamed on Boko Haram.
The declaration came in response to scores of attacks attributed to Boko Haram, particularly the bombings on Christmas that killed 49 people, most of them in a blast at a Catholic church as services were ending.
Mr Qaqa also criticised Mr Jonathan over his visit to a Catholic church outside Abuja on Saturday. The church was the site of the bloodiest Christmas-day attack, with an explosion killing 44 people there as services were ending.
"The president had never visited any of the theatres were Muslims were massacred," he said, naming areas where scores of Muslims were killed in post-election riots in April.
While Boko Haram has been carrying out increasingly deadly attacks for months, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that left 25 dead, the Christmas violence sparked intense fear and outrage.
It also led to warnings from Christian leaders that they would defend themselves if such attacks continued.