LAGOS (AFP) - An influential body grouping Nigeria's Catholic Bishops Saturday urged President Goodluck Jonathan to hire foreign crime experts to snuff out an Islamist sect blamed for hundreds of deaths.
"I call on Mr President to recall the retired experts in criminology and employ foreign experts in this field to assist the active security agents to put an immediate end to the Boko Haram menace," a statement said.
Boko Haram is believed to include different factions with varying aims, including those with political links as well as a hard-core Islamist cell that has drawn supporters from young people in the deeply impoverished north.
The president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Felix Alaba Job, said in the statement: "This group has apparently declared war on Nigeria and at times of war nations call on their reserves.
"It is apparent that if we depend only on our available active security agents, we shall not make much progress," he said.
The sect has claimed responsibility for a spate of deadly bombings and gun attacks in the capital Abuja and several parts of the north, including the Christmas bombings of a Roman Catholic church outside the city, and elsewhere which claimed at least 49 lives.
The bishops said that the toll of people killed or missing following the series of Christmas attacks on churches "is today feared to be about 200."
This figure could not be independently confirmed.
Nigeria's security agencies have come under intense pressure to stop attacks by Boko Haram amid spiralling violence blamed on the group.
Jonathan on Friday met his security chiefs for the second time in as many days following suggestions that he may reshuffle his team.
Boko Haram has carried out scores of attacks in Nigeria, most of them in the northeast, and its targets have included Muslim leaders.
Christian leaders have expressed mounting frustration over the authorities' inability to stop the attacks that have killed hundreds of people this year.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.