MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Gunmen from a radical Islamist group opened fire Tuesday night at a beer parlor in northeast Nigeria, killing eight people including four police officers as part of their ongoing sectarian battle against the oil-rich nation’s government, authorities said.
The shootings come as the sect known as Boko Haram has promised to target Christians in Nigeria’s Muslim north, expanding its campaign of assassinations and bombings. The sect is blamed by the government for killing at least 63 people in less than week, according to an Associated Press count, as it continues its campaign to impose strict Islamic — or Shariah — law across the multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
Tuesday night’s attack occurred in the town of Potiskum in Yobe state. Local police commissioner Tanko Lawan said the six gunmen began shooting as patrons drank beer, which the local Shariah law technically opposes, though bars remain open for those living there.
“We didn’t confront the gunmen at the beer parlor,” Lawan said. “Any police that goes there went on his own.”
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, is blamed for at least 510 killings last year alone, according to an AP count. In a recent attack, it killed 20 Christian Igbo traders holding a meeting in Nigeria’s northeast.
The group also claimed credit for attacks that killed at least 42 people in Christmas Day strikes that included the bombing of a Catholic church near Abuja. The group also claimed an August suicide car bombing that targeted the U.N. headquarters in the capital, killing 25 people and wounding more than 100.
Nigeria’s central government has been slow to respond to the sect. On Dec. 31, President Goodluck Jonathan declared regions of Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobe states to be under a state of emergency, meaning authorities can make arrests without proof and conduct searches without warrants. He also ordered international borders near Borno and Yobe state to be closed.
However, the attacks have not stopped.
Boko Haram’s promises to target Christians in Nigeria’s north have sparked fears and led some Christians to flee the area. There also has been retaliatory violence in Nigeria’s Christian south, including an attack Tuesday on a mosque and a Quran school in Benin City that killed at least five people.