Over 160 killed in Christian areas after wave of Christmas attacks in Nigeria

Armed groups attacked around 20 small villages in Plateau state in 2 days. Christian leaders urge authorities to take action to prevent future threats.

Evangelical Focus , Morning Star News

28 DECEMBER 2023 · 13:40 CET

Many of the inhabitants of the attacked villages leave their homes in fear of further attacks / DW video screenshot.,
Many of the inhabitants of the attacked villages leave their homes in fear of further attacks / DW video screenshot.

From December 23 through December 25, terrorists massacred 160 people, in coordinated attacks on mostly Christian areas in Plateau state, Nigeria, sources from Morning Star News said.

Church pastors were killed and hundreds of houses were destroyed in the attacks in villages of Barkin Ladi, Bokkos and Mangu counties, according to officials and residents.

The assailants killed pastor Solomon Gushe of Baptist church in Dares village along with nine of his family members, said Bokkos County resident Dawzino Mallau.

He told Morning Star News in a text message that “some pastors were killed, and another pastor and his wife and five children were killed during those attacks”.

“The terrorists who attacked those Christian communities were in the hundreds, and they carried out the attacks as the hapless Christians were preparing for Christmas programs lined up by their pastors”, added Mallau.

Most of the Christians killed were women, children and the elderly unable to escape.

Alfred Mashat, another resident of the Bokkos area, confirmed Morning Star News that hundreds of houses were destroyed, and pointed out that “We believe they are carrying out these attacks alongside armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen”.


Massacre and destruction

Furthermore, around 300 injured people were taken to hospitals for treatment.

Alfred Alabo, spokesman for the Plateau State Police Command, said in a press statement that the assailants on Sunday night (Dec. 24) attacked 12 villages, while In Bokkos, 221 houses were set ablaze, 27 motorcycles and eight other motor vehicles were burned, and over 79 persons killed.

The governor of Plateau, Caleb Mutfwang, reported on Monday that at least 50 persons had been killed in Mangu and Bokkos counties in the prior 48 hours.

“This is unacceptable. Enough is enough. These stupid, senseless and unprovoked acts must stop”, underlined Mutfwang, vowing to “strengthen security agencies in the efforts in tackling insecurity in the state”.

The method of attack recalls that of Christmas 2020, when ethnic Fulani herdsmen attacked villages in Kaduna, resulting in dozens of deaths and property damage.

Residents fear the death toll could be even higher, as many people are still missing.


Armed and extremist assailants

The assailants are described locally as “bandits”, shorthand for a mix of criminal elements including ethnic Fulani herders hit by drought and dwindling land for their cattle.

Riding motorcycles and well-armed with sophisticated weapons obtained from criminal elements outside of Nigeria, some of the predominantly Muslim assailants are said to be mercenaries from Chad or Niger.

Estimated to number in the tens of thousands, such assailants have been active in northern Nigeria for more than a decade, but have increasingly expanded into Plateau, Benue and other states, including some in southern Nigeria.

Christian leaders and other observers also believe elements of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and a faction aligned with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) form part of some of the attacking criminal gangs.

Christian leaders in Nigeria believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in the Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.


“I called the police, but they never came”

Some survivors denounced security agencies took more than 12 hours before they responded to their call for help, a claim that has not been confirmed by the government but coincides with previous concerns about the authorities' slow interventions in Nigeria's deadly security crisis.

“I called security, but they never came. The ambush started at 6pm, but security came to our house at 7am”, said Sunday Dawum, a youth leader in Bokkos. At least 27 people were killed in his village, Mbom Mbaru, including his brother.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, the authorities believe it may be herdsmen from the Fulani tribe, who have been accused of carrying out similar killings in the northwestern and central regions of the country.

The Nigerian military said it launched “clearance operations" in search of the suspects, with the help of other security agencies, although arrests are unusual after attacks of such kind.

“We will not rest until all the perpetrators of these dastardly acts are brought to account”, said Abdullsalam Abubakar, who commands the army's special intervention operation in Plateau and neighbouring states.

This is believed to be the worst massacre in Plateau since last May, when over 100 people were killed in attacks by farmers and herdsmen.


Public complaint by the CAN

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) condemned on Tuesday “these acts of violence in the strongest possible terms. The burning down of houses, and worship centres, and the destruction of properties worth millions, is not only a criminal act but also a direct assault on our shared values of peace, unity, and mutual respect”.

“Such acts have no place in our society and must not be allowed to prevail”, added CAN president, Archbishop Daniel Okoh.

He stressed that “our prayers go out to you for comfort and strength. The loss of lives, including those of our brethren in the Baptist Church in Chirang village, is a devastating blow to our collective peace and unity”.

While commending the speedy efforts of a joint police and military task force to bring some sense of normality, Okoh appealed for security intelligence to develop proactive measures to prevent future threats.

The entity also pleaded for peace and unity in the state as they support affected communities with relief materials.

“In this season of love and giving, let us remember the victims and their families not only in our prayers but also by reaching out to them with relief materials. Let us extend our empathy and support, and commit to building a peaceful and prosperous Plateau State and Nigeria as a whole”, concluded the president of CAN.

In the 2023 Open Doors World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to sixth place, its highest ranking ever.


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