ABUJA - Fears have gripped Nigeria's Muslims after threats by militants in the country's oil-rich delta to attack mosques, religious leaders and hajj camps on claims of defending Christianity.
MEND surely has the reputation and means to carry out the threatened terrorist attacks, Disu Kamor, chief executive at the Muslim Public Affairs Center (MPAC), told OnIslam.net.
Due to this fact, we call on the Nigerian government to take the threat seriously, to publicly condemn it and make tangible efforts to protect Muslims and their places of worship.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has threatened attacks against mosques, Muslim leaders and hajj camps in defense of Christianity against the militant Boko Haram.
The militant group said the attacks will start by May 31 unless the umbrella Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Catholic Church order a halt.
"The bombings of mosques, hajj camps, Islamic institutions, large congregations in Islamic events and assassinations of clerics that propagate doctrines of hate will form the core mission of this crusade," MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo has said in an e-mailed statement.
But the threat has sparked fears among Nigerian Muslims over possible attacks by the militant group.
Shakirat Abdulmajeed, spokesperson for The Criterion, an influential group of Muslim women professionals, said Muslims are genuinely apprehensive.
The Muslim community has repeatedly denounced Boko Haram as not representing Islam and Muslims, Abdulmajeed told OnIslam.net.
It would therefore be most unfair for anyone to unleash violence on Muslims for what they know nothing about.
Operating from oil-rich Niger Delta, MEND is one of Nigeria's foremost terror gangs that seeks to control the region's oil wealth.
The group, which operates in Nigeria's south - especially in oil-rich Niger Delta areas, including Lagos and Ondo, focuses its attacks on Nigerian security forces and facilities.
Boko Haram, a radical Muslim group, has escalated attacks against Nigerian security forces and churches in revenge to what it says injustice done to Muslims.
Muslims have repeatedly denounced Boko Haram attacks as running against the Islamic teachings.
The Boko Haram violence does not discriminate between Muslims and Christians, Abdulmajeed said.
And since their activities are mainly in the Muslim North it is perhaps safe to say Muslims are worst hit in the mayhem.
Muslim leaders, however, say the MEND threats do not represent the general sentiments of Christians in Nigeria.
MEND's statements fail to represent the sentiments of most Christians around the country Kamor told OnIslam.net.
(The statements) are reprehensible in their attempt to deny history of the most tragic occurrences which have claimed more Muslim lives, mischaracterized the name and message of Islam, and threatened to the very existence of the whole country.
MEND threat has already invited condemnations from Christian bodies in Nigeria.
The Catholic Church has warned that MEND attacks could sink the country deeper into the precipice.
CAN has not yet commented on the threat, while security agencies have warned the militant group to desist.
Edwin Clark, a prominent leader from the Niger Delta, warned that the threat is aimed at causing disaffection between the various groups in Nigeria.
The Catholic Secretariat said any attacks on Muslims could further plunge the country to the edge.
Any attacks on mosques and other religious places of worship will worsen the problem in the country, Rev Father Ralph Madu, spokesman of the Catholic Secretariat, told OnIslam.net.
So we urge MEND to drop their arms and machetes and embrace peace so that there will be a lasting peace in this country.
All these provoked and unprovoked reactions won't solve the problems.
Prof Ishaq Akintola of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) said the timing of MEND's threat raises serious doubts.
The fact that MEND's threat is coming just when lights start to appear at the end of the dark tunnel is quite interesting, he told OnIslam.net, referring to reports about possible amnesty for Boko Haram militants to help bring peace to the country.
It raises more questions than answers and it is in the interest of everybody that we end this.
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.