Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has questioned whether deadly Islamist attacks on churches in his country and other violence worldwide could be signs of coming "end times".
Jonathan, speaking after 15 Christians had their throats slit last week in the country's northeast, also suggested Islamist extremist group Boko Haram aimed to take over the Nigerian capital Abuja, but vowed the group would be defeated.
During comments Sunday in which he mentioned attacks on churches in Nigeria, Syria's war and the situation in the Central African Republic, where rebels have pushed their way across the impoverished country, Jonathan spoke of the Biblical end times.
"I was just wondering, could this be a clear way of telling us that the end times are so close?" he told the church congregation, according to a recording of his remarks heard by AFP.
Some Christians believe in the idea of chaos in connection with the second coming of Jesus Christ, commonly referred to as the "end times". Such beliefs are based on passages in the New Testament's Book of Revelation.
Jonathan was speaking at an evangelical Christian church service in the capital. The church belongs to the EYN denomination, common among Christians in the violence-torn northeast, where Boko Haram is based.
Local media quoted the church pastor as saying 109 EYN members have been killed and 50 branches burnt.
Violence linked to Boko Haram's insurgency in northern and central Nigeria has left some 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces.
Muslims and symbols of Nigerian authority have often been their targets, but the group has also specifically targeted Christians, including suicide bombings of churches.
This Christmas season has however been notably less bloody than in 2011, when scores were killed in attacks on churches and other locations.
Jonathan has previously accused Boko Haram of seeking to destabilise the government and incite a religious crisis in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
On Sunday, while speaking of the rebels in the Central African Republic, Jonathan said: "They were quite close to taking over the capital city, just as Boko Haram is taking over Abuja for me and those working in government to run and hide somewhere else."
He vowed however that Boko Haram would not succeed and that the violence would be brought under control.
"If the idea of Boko Haram is to stop Nigerians from worshipping God, they will not succeed," he said.
"If the idea of Boko Haram is to stop government from providing the dividends of democracy, they will not succeed.... God willing and with our commitment, the excesses of Boko Haram and other criminal organisations will be brought to a reasonable control."
Jonathan spokesman Reuben Abati did not respond to a phone call to further explain the president's comments.© ANP/AFP