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In Nigeria, Radical Muslim Group Claims Responsibility for Christmas Day Attacks

December 26, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

MARGARET WARNER: The people of Nigeria faced new uncertainty today after Christmas Day attacks on Christian churches that killed at least 39 people. The worst attack came just outside the capital, where 35 were killed. Four more died in the city of Jos, and, overall, more than 50 were wounded.

Some were distraught. Others were furious today outside Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church near the capital, Abuja. Christmas decorations still hung over the entrance, but burned Bibles and a crucifix lay in the debris. And the bomb crater just beyond the building testified to the power of the blast that hit worshipers as they emerged from Christmas mass.

The attack was one of three aimed at Christian churches Sunday in Nigeria, an oil-rich African nation of 160 million people split between a Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

In Rome today, Pope Benedict XVI denounced the killings.

POPE BENEDICT XVI, leader of Catholic Church (through translator): Our land continues to be drenched in innocent blood. I have learned with deep sadness the news of the attacks. Even this year, on the day of the birth of Jesus, grief and pain has been brought to some churches in Nigeria. I wish to express my sincere and affectionate closeness to the Christian community.

MARGARET WARNER: A radical Muslim group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks. A spokesman said there will be no peace until full Sharia law is enforced throughout Nigeria and democracy and the Constitution are suspended.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” also struck on Christmas Eve of 2010 with bombings that killed 32 in the city of Jos. The group has mounted multiple attacks since, including bombing the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Abuja, last August, killing 24.

Sunday’s attacks bring this year’s total killings, blamed on Boko Haram, to more than 500. Late Sunday, President Goodluck Jonathan, condemned what he called the dastardly attacks, but he predicted the group will not last forever.

But Muhammadu Buhari, a former general from the north who lost the presidential election last April, sharply criticized Jonathan. He said in a statement, “This is clearly a failure of leadership at a time the government needs to assure the people of the capacity to guarantee the safety of lives and property.”

The government has tried using police and security forces against Boko Haram. Some have criticized their neighborhood raids as repressive and ineffective.