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Islamist Nigerian militants press attacks against Christians to foment religious war

Abuja, Nigeria

Islamist Fulani militants in the central Nigerian state of Plateau are continuing an anti-Christian killing spree that began with a devastating Christmas-time attack that left almost 200 Christians dead and hundreds others injured.

On 18th February, six people were ambushed, with one killed and others injured, including a woman who was raped. A week earlier, the militants attacked a Christian village with guns and machetes, killing 10 and injuring dozens. The campaign is going on despite a multi-agency security operation in the region.

Victims of a gunmen attack react at the internal displaced camp upon the arrival of Nigeria Vice President Kashim Shettima, in Bokkos, north central Nigeria, Wednesday, on 27th December, 2023. Nigerian officials and survivors say almost 200 people were killed by gunmen in weekend attacks on remote villages in north-central Nigeria’s Plateau state. PICTURE: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba.

On the evening of 23rd February, Fulani gunmen targeted some 20 Christian communities and dozens of churches in the predominantly Christian area of the country, which as a whole is more than half Muslim. The terrorists, who are aligned with the Islamist group Boko Haram, killed or maimed anyone in sight, slaughtered animals and burned down thousands of homes, displacing more than 20,000 people. The mayhem lasted through the morning of 26th December.

Twenty-six-year-old Joseph Makut survived a gunshot wound to his right leg in the attack.

“I didn’t celebrate Christmas. The militants attacked my village of Mabor at midnight when my family and I were in a deep sleep,” the father of two said from his hospital bed at Jos University Teaching Hospital. “The gunmen broke our door and opened fire at us. We pretended to be dead, but my wife tried to crawl, and she was shot several times and died.”

Makut said the gunmen told them that they aimed to eliminate Christian communities in the central part of the country.

“I don’t think I will go back to my village until my security is assured,” said Makut, bemoaning the insecurity that Christians face in the country, especially in Plateau. “The terrorists are determined to kill every Christian in the region, and this is making us live in fear because we have already lost our loved ones.”

Nigeria, a West African nation of more than 200 million people, has suffered terror attacks since 2009 when the violent extremist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State group in West Africa launched an insurgency aimed at overthrowing Nigeria’s secular government and establishing an Islamic state. In 2011, the Fulani militants joined Boko Haram to escalate Islamism insurgency in northern and central Nigeria, targeting Christians.

At least 52,250 Nigerian Christians have been murdered for their faith, and thousands of churches have been destroyed, according to the report from Intersociety, a democracy and human rights advocacy group founded in 2008.

Nigeria is now ranked number six on the World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. The research reveals that the country is the most dangerous or difficult in which to be a Christian as violence against Christians is increasing.

Patricia Machen, another survivor of the Christmas Eve attacks, said she was afraid of attending church services after terrorists burned her church during the night attack and warned residents against praying.

“We are afraid to be Christians in this country, and we are now not even going to church since the attack happened,” said Machen, a 40-year-old mother of four from the Mangu community, one of dozens of ethnic groups in Plateau. “The terrorists found us praying inside the church, and they started shooting at us, and we had to run and hide. But unfortunately, they killed and injured some of our members.”

Victims of the gunmen attack in north central Nigeria receive treatment at Jos University Teaching Hospital in Jos, Nigeria, on Wednesday, 27th December, 2023. PICTURE: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba.

Machen said the groups have spies in every Christian community that report to them about religious activities happening in the communities. “For example, when we have a prayer gathering, vigil or fasting in groups, the terrorists will know and strike. They will even send messages to warn residents against praying.”

Religious leaders have warned that the attacks are aimed at creating conflict between Muslims and Christians in the hope of instigating a religious war in the country.

“These people are terrorists, and they are not fighting for any religion. But they want to use religion to achieve their target of destabilizing the country and establishing an Islamic state,” said Moses Mashat, pastor of an evangelical Christian church. “I want to urge the government to bring hope to the people by arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators and sponsors of these crimes happening across the country.”

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The president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, of the independent Christ Holy Church International, advised Nigerians to remain united despite the attacks.

“In times like these, Nigerians must come together and remain united despite the challenges they are facing from terrorist gangs,” said Okoh. “We can only defeat terrorists when we are together as a country, and I urge Nigerians to continue praying to the Almighty God to protect our country from future attacks.”

Meanwhile, survivors, most of them sheltered in 23 camps set up by the Red Cross in Plateau, are desperately awaiting aid as they continue to mourn their loved ones.

“We have nothing to eat because we lost everything, including our farm produce and livestock,” said Machen, noting that they lack basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, clothing, blankets and medical aid. “We are urging the government and well-wishers to come to our aid because we are suffering and, at the same time, mourning.”


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