The death toll of last weekend’s massacre of Nigerian Christians by militant Muslim Fulani herdsmen has risen to at least 200, according to a report released Friday by Open Doors, an organization that monitors Christian persecution.
As Breitbart News reported earlier this week, heavily armed gunmen recognized as Fulani herdsmen opened fire on Christians in a number of villages in Plateau State of central Nigeria last weekend, killing scores and injuring hundreds more, as well as burning some 50 homes to the ground. Most of the victims were returning home from the funeral of the father of a local Christian minister.
Despite the evidently religious nature of the slaughter, mainstream media chose to downplay the militant Islamism behind the attacks, preferring to attribute the violence to “ethnic tensions,” a “battle for land and resources,” or even “climate change.”
Meanwhile, two local Catholic bishops have called out the violence for what it was: a “clear agenda for Islamizing the Nigerian Middle Belt” by using Fulani shepherds.
One of the bishops, Matthew Ishaya Audu of Lafia, said the attacks are not random or economically motivated, but purposefully target Christians.
“They want to strike Christians,” Bishop Audu said, “and the government does nothing to stop them, because President Buhari is also of the Fulani ethnic group.”
Other observers concur that the attacks form part of a larger plan to eliminate Christians from the area.
“The killings are becoming no longer herder and farmer clashes” but a “deliberate attempt to conquer and occupy the land of the people’s ancestral heritage,” said Dr. Soja Bewarang, while denouncing an attack on a Bible school that trained Christian missionaries in Gana-Ropp village.
Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam, of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Jos, said that the violence is part of a pattern, an emerging agenda, which represents “another Boko Haram in disguise.”
The intensity of the attacks in central Nigeria is indicative, Para-Mallam said, “because Plateau state is the epicenter of Christianity.”
The recent “killing spree” lasted four days, Thursday through Sunday evening and into Monday, Open Doors revealed in its report Friday.
During this time, a dozen villages in Nigeria’s Plateau state were reportedly wiped out and on Sunday, 75 of the victims were buried in a mass grave.
Among the victims of the massacre included a local pastor, Rev. Musa Choji, along with his wife and son.
In a single village, Nghar, herdsmen killed over 100 Christians and burned down all the houses, as well as two churches, according to an unnamed pastor of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA).
Assailants killed 14 members of the pastor’s wife’s family, including her mother and sister. In that household, 27 people lost their lives, all of them burned to death, Open Doors said.
On the day of the attack in Nghar, only two soldiers and one policeman were in the village, but they reportedly fled as soon as the herdsmen launched their attack.
Although the anti-Christian violence came to a head over the weekend, in reality it has been going on for some time, according to Pastor Steve Kwol, chairman of the Pentecostal Federation of Nigeria for Plateau North.
Even since the weekend, with a military presence and dusk-to-dawn curfew, the assaults are ongoing, he said. Two more villages—Kwi and Dorowa—were badly damaged on Monday.
Most of the buildings were burned down in Dorowa, including four church buildings, and the adjoining buildings, including pastors’ houses, were also destroyed by fire.
Herdsmen set fire to a number of buildings, including churches, in Kwi as well. The precise number of casualties is unknown, but many villagers were displaced and are now living in camps in neighboring villages.
“We’ve been living peacefully with [Fulani herdsmen]” Pastor Kwol said. “Since this crisis started in Plateau in recent months, our people have not killed one Fulani man. Instead, they have been killing our people one by one. We just buried them and carried on.” he said.
“As a result of the ongoing insecurity, there are places where people can no longer go to farm,” he said, “because when they go, the Fulani will come and take their cows, or attack them.”
“Just two weeks ago, they shot my wife’s young brother. But he survived. He was discharged on Wednesday and had returned home on Thursday, only to get killed in the last attack, on Saturday,” he said.
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