More deaths from Boko Haram: AP and other media step up reporting

The new round of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria has gotten fast-reacting coverage from the Associated Press, a testament to the new attention mainstream media have been paying to Muslim extremists.

AP's story is taut and sweeping. In classic wire service style, it packs the horrific summary into the lede:

JOS, Nigeria — A day of extremist violence against both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria killed more than 60 people, including worshippers in a mosque who came to hear a cleric known for preaching about peaceful coexistence of all faiths.
Militants from Boko Haram were blamed for the bombings Sunday night at a crowded mosque and a posh Muslim restaurant in the central city of Jos; a suicide bombing earlier at an evangelical Christian church in the northeastern city of Potiskum, and attacks in several northeastern villages where dozens of churches and about 300 homes were torched.

The article also recaps the violence of the past week -- a week that saw 300-plus deaths at the hands of Boko Haram. It notes that the group has become an affiliate of the Islamic State in Syria. It even names two targeted houses of worship: Yantaya Mosque in Jos and the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Potiskum.

The well-sourced story quotes eight people, including a police official, an emergency coordinator, a community militia leader, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, and witnesses on the street. The latter have some of the most gripping detail, like a man who had just gotten takeout from a restaurant that was bombed: "The restaurant was destroyed, and we saw many people covered in blood. We can't believe that we escaped."

AP adds that Boko Haram went after Muslims as well as Christians: "The deadliest attack came last Wednesday when more than 140 people were killed — mostly men and boys mowed down by gunfire as they prayed in mosques in the northeastern town of Kukawa."

The article says the Yantaya Mosque is in Jos, in the center of the country, where the "majority Muslim north meets the mainly Christian south." It also reports that Imam Sani Yahaya of the mosque is a prominent moderate Muslim leader. "He is a great Islamic scholar who has spoken out against Boko Haram, and that is why we believe he was the target," a member tells AP.

There are a few angles the story could have pursued. It doesn't quote the imam or even name the church pastor. A religious leader or two in a story about a religious war would be a good addition, one thinks.

And why the onslaught of attacks now? Well, the story reminds us that the Islamic State has called for "more mayhem" during Ramadan. But we aren't told why the IS would choose this month -- a time, like the Christian Lent and the Jewish High Holy Days, for prayer, fasting and repentance. Muslim leaders are themselves incredulous at the brutality.

"It’s so diabolical in terms of their call being diametrically opposed to the actual purpose of Ramadan," Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the International Business Times. I'll bet AP could have asked someone about it in Nigeria.

And other than Imam Santaya's interfaith beliefs, I don’t see an explanation of the attacks on the mosques. As a militantly anti-Christian gang, Boko Haram naturally targets churches. Why the mosques?

But AP is still on the story: Yesterday, it posted another piece on a bomb blast in a northern university town, by a female suicide bomber. That story, too, includes chilling eyewitness testimony: "I saw three truck-loads of body parts taken away by the police," a woman says.

And today, AP ran a lengthy story on Boko Haram offering to release the 219 girls it still has in captivity, in return for 16 Boko Haram suspects in jail. That article specifies Boko Haram's blend of anti-Christian and anti-education beliefs, saying they were "mostly Christian girls preparing to write science exams were seized from the school by Islamic militants." The story adds that in a video released by Boko Haram, the captive girls "were shown wearing Islamic hijab and reciting the Quran. One of them said they had converted to Islam."

The story also quotes a Nigerian spokeman that the government is now getting help from "respected Islamic scholars and Muslim elders who were ignored by Jonathan's people but now have taken dangerous and courageous steps to engage the insurgents." Doesn't say who or how they're helping, though.

As I've said before, stories like this -- tragic as they are -- still come as a welcome development. In past years, violence against Jews, Buddhists or Muslims (rightfully) got coverage, but similar violence against Christian communities was often downplayed or even ignored.

Occasionally that blindness resurfaces, as when some media in November said al-Shabaab killed "non-Muslims" in Kenya. And for some reason, the Religion News Service's newsletter, The Slingshot, calls the recent Nigeria attacks "Bloody Ironic" and a "day of sectarian violence." OK, The Slingshot tries to be humorous, but a joke about 60 murder victims is beyond inappropriate. It's also inaccurate to say "sectarian violence" when it was violence against Christians and Muslims and restaurant diners and the Nigerian government. If Boko Haram is a sect, Al-Qaida and the Ku Klux Klan are sects.

Increasingly, though, one sees stories like a Los Angeles Times indepth on the plight of Christians in Afghanistan, as my colleague Bobby Ross Jr. noted last year. Or a 60 Minutes report on Iraqi Christians, as Julia Duin wrote in March. And this week, CBS News led a report with the church bombing in Nigeria and ended with the mosque attack there.

Reporting on a tragedy may seem cold comfort to those who are mourning lost limbs or loved ones. But information must precede action. If the news reports spur Nigeria and its neighbors to step up their efforts, they might help prevent more mourners.

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