Nigerian Christmas Day Murders Condemned by Muslims, But...

Condemning the deadly attacks on Nigerian Christians on Christmas Day, Islamic organizations around the world called the atrocities un-Islamic, yet opinion polls tracking views on terrorism suggest that significant numbers of Muslims disagree.

While scientific polling has found a decline in support for suicide bombings over the decade since 9/11 in most major Muslim countries, minorities of respondents - in some cases, large minorities - continue to regard them as justified "in defense of Islam."

The percentages extrapolate to tens of millions of Muslims across Africa, the Middle East and Asia who hold that view.

In Nigeria, where at least 39 Christians were killed in a series of attacks Sunday - most of them at a Catholic church near the capital, Abuja - 34 percent of respondents in a Pew Global Attitudes Project poll last year expressed support for suicide bombings.

About 50 percent of Nigeria's 155 million population is Muslim. Thirty-four percent of the Muslim population of Africa's most populous country would amount to 26 million people.

(Pew surveyed 1,000 Nigerian adults in what it described as a "[m]ulti-stage cluster sample stratified by all six geo-political regions and Lagos and the urban/rural population and proportional to population size."  It gave a margin of error of plus/minus four percent.)

The radical group that claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day attacks, Boko Haram, said it would continue its violent campaign until Boko Haram prisoners are released, Nigeria's constitution is suspended, and Islamic law (shari'a) is enforced. Shari'a was introduced in 12 northern states, where most Muslims live, a decade ago.

It was the second Christmas in a row marked by Boko Haram killings. Last year at least 32 people were killed and more than 70 wounded in three bombings targeting Christian areas on Christmas Eve. Those bombings were carried out in Jos, a city located roughly on the divide between Muslim north and Christian south which has frequently witnessed attacks, including deadly clashes in 2001, 2008 and January 2010. Jos was again targeted this year, with a bomb blast and gunfire at a church. No-one was killed in that incident.

Also known as the "Nigerian Taliban" or "Nigerian Jihad," Boko Haram is reported to have links to Somalia's al-Shabaab and to al-Qaeda's North Africa affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

It focus has been mostly universal enforcement of shari'a in Nigeria and a purge of what it sees as Western influences in education and culture. Its attacks targeted Nigerians until last August, when the group was blamed for a suicide bombing at U.N. headquarters in Abuja that killed 23 people.

Last month the U.S. Embassy in Abuja warned U.S. citizens to avoid hotels in the capital frequented by Westerners, citing information that Boko Haram planning to attack those facilities.

Although support for suicide bombings “in defense of Islam” has generally dropped over the decade since al-Qaeda attacked America, it remains considerable in some places in a 2011 Pew poll – 35 percent in Lebanon, 20 in Israel, 13 percent in Jordan, 10 percent in Indonesia and four percent in Pakistan.

Nigeria was not included in the 2011 poll, but a 2010 Pew poll 34 percent of Nigerian Muslim respondents voiced support for suicide bombings.


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