Presumed Islamic militants sent a letter this week to Nigerian Christian leaders threatening attacks unless all churches in Zamfara state are closed to worship, the Barnabas Fund reported.
A spokesperson for Zamfara police, detective superintendent Mohammed Shehu, confirmed that the letter had been sent.
“Yes, I can confirm that it’s true, a threat letter was sent to the Christians in Zamfara State to stop worship and to close churches,” he said.
The same letter was copied to the Police, Department of State Services (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other security agencies, all of whom reportedly confirmed receipt of the letter.
Shehu said that police have discussed security measures with the Zamfara branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and that a “special squad” has been formed “to patrol and protect worshipers, especially on Sundays.”
“Additionally, plain-clothes personnel have been deployed for intelligence gathering and to unravel those behind the threat letter,” Shehu said.
State police have instructed Christians to intensify security in all places of worship and Christian centers, while CAN has directed churches not to hold meetings after 5:00pm for the next three months.
“Let’s pray for Christians in northern Nigeria, especially in Zamfara state, as we are issued a three-year ultimatum to close all churches in the state,” requested an unnamed Nigerian church leader.
In the face of the threat, some Christians are reportedly considering leaving Zamfara State for safer areas.
The Barnabas Fund reported that as many as 10,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since 2015, mostly in the northern and Middle Belt states, where anti-Christian violence is most frequent and intense.
A spokesman for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) warned last April of a “sustained campaign” of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria, which has only increased in severity in recent years.
Recent attacks on Christians “are the latest in a sustained campaign of violence which has been ongoing in multiple states in central Nigeria for over a decade now,” Ellis Heasley, Public Affairs officer at CSW, said in an interview with Crux, an online Catholic news outlet.
In May, the UK-based Tablet newspaper reported that thousands of Nigerian Christians had been kidnapped and hundreds killed in the first four months of 2021.
The Tablet noted a dangerous “escalation” in targeted violence against Nigeria’s Christian population, in what watchdog groups have called a Christian genocide in the country.
The Nigerian-based Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety), a human rights group, reported in May that Islamic jihadists had slaughtered 1,470 Christians in the first four months of 2021 and abducted over 2,200.
The 1,470 Christian deaths in just four months exceeded the total number of Christians killed in 2019, estimated at 1,350, the report said.
“More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country,” declared the World Watch List 2021, published by Open Doors.
Despite the ongoing slaughter of Christians in Nigeria, which shows no signs of abating, the Biden administration decided in mid-November to remove Nigeria from its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC).
“This is not only a baffling error, it’s likely in direct violation of the International Religious Freedom Act, the law that requires these designations to be made in the first place,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, in reaction to the announcement.