Church leaders have confirmed the killing of more than 160 people in Nigeria’s Middle Belt over Christmas, attacks which they say saw the “deliberate targeting” of Christians.
The killing spree began on 23rd December and went on for four days, with 26 villages in Plateau State coming under fire.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, Father Andrew Dewan, director of communications of Pankshin Diocese where the attacks took place, described how “people were summarily shot and killed”, with churches, clinics and grain stores torched.
Describing the scene in Tudun Mazat, which he had visited only that morning for Christmas Mass, Father Dewan said: “The attackers stormed the community in the evening, just about the time most people were eating their dinner…
“Before people could raise the alarm, the bandits were already upon them.
“People were summarily shot and killed, houses and corn that had been harvested were set ablaze, churches and clinics were also set on fire.”
He said that very night 20 other communities were attacked in what bore all the signs of coordinated attacks.
Confirming reports that Fulani militia or mercenaries were to blame, he said that survivors and eyewitnesses reported that in mixed Fulani/Christian communities “not one Fulani was affected and no Fulani houses were burned”.
Father Dewan said: “The unprovoked attacks were well-coordinated and deliberate, targeting communities that were Christians specifically.
“I live in this same community and can confirm that in the areas where these attacks took place the victims were 100 percent Christians, except for a few. But even at that, the non-Christians were isolated.”
He added: “For those who believe that this conflict is not religious, this latest attack proves that it is clearly a religious conflict.
“The fact that it took place at Christmas, and the deliberate targeting of Christians in a mixed community where Muslims are not attacked, clearly bears all the hallmarks of a religious conflict.”
Father Dewan said that up to 167 fatalities had been confirmed in attacks on villages centred on Bokkos, but also involving Barkin Ladi and Mangu.
He said the total dead “is definitely going to rise because there are still many people in hospitals, with varying degrees of injuries and wounds.”
Condemning the “senseless killing”, Regina Lynch, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International executive president, said: “Our Christian brothers and sisters killed in Nigeria, and in other countries of the world, are the ‘Holy Innocents’ of the 21st century.
“The bloodshed as followers of Jesus will, we are sure, be the seed of new Christians.”
She added: “We call on the government to finally confront this problem and provide safety to its citizens and urge our friends and benefactors to keep praying for Nigeria, just as we pledge to continue helping in whatever way we can.”
With thanks to Maria Lozano