ATTAKAR, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – The Rev. John Dakwat and his wife were at work in a back corner of their church building when they heard gunshots – just one in a series of attacks that killed at least 26 Christians in the border area between two states during Holy Week.
Dakwat, who identified the assailants as Muslim, ethnic Fulani herdsmen, managed to hide behind the church building with his wife. From there they were able to escape, he believes, because God kept the gunmen from seeing them.
He also notes that his children – and he and his wife – likely survived because the kids were in school at the time. Many of the predominantly Christian, ethnic Attakar victims of the attacks on villages along the border of Plateau and Kaduna states were either children or the elderly.
Pastor of a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) congregation in Kirim village, Plateau state, Dakwat told Morning Star News that on March 28 at about 8 a.m., Fulani Muslims suddenly appeared in the village after pouring in from the nearby rocky hills, shooting and killing anyone they found. Dakwat and his wife were able to observe from their hiding place in the surrounding foliage.
“It was a helpless situation, as no Christians had any weapon to fight back,” he said. “Women, children, and the elderly who were not able to escape were shot and killed. Luckily, all my children are in school, so this made it easier for our escape from the Muslim attackers. We sneaked away in the midst of the confusion and trekked for more than 20 kilometers [12 miles] to find a place to stay.”
In his report on the attack to COCIN leaders, he stated: “I thank God for blinding their eyes. I was just standing at the edge of the church building, and from there I escaped with my wife. While I was standing from a far distance, they set fire on my house and the church.”
Dakwat returned to Kirim village four days later, only after security agents finally intervened. By then, at least 26 Christians from 12 villages on each side of the border had been killed, he said. The death toll could be much higher, as Nigerian newspaper Leadership reported 17 ethnic Attakar killed in Zilang, nine killed in Mafang, one slain in Mifi and one in Attakar on Saturday and Sunday (March 30-31) alone.
Christian leaders reported the destruction of eight area church buildings, 234 homes and the displacement of more than 1,500 Christians.
The attacks went on for three days without any response by Nigerian security forces, church leaders in the affected areas told Morning Star News. Gunfire on the settlements of the predominantly Christian Attakar ethnic group were finally brought to a halt on Easter Sunday (March 31).
Dakwat, 34, said he lost everything he had – including all his theological books, clothing, household items and food – in the fires set to his house and the building for his 250-member congregation.
“I lost everything I have ever had, but thank God I and my family are all alive,” he said.
Prior to the onslaught, villagers had heard gunshots at about 3 a.m. in the hills on the border between the two states, Dakwat said.
“There was panic in the village, since we did not know what was happening,” he said in Bum village, where has taken refuge. “But the Fulani herdsmen living among us told us that the shooting was coming from their colleagues who had gone to the other side of the rocky hills to take their cattle for grazing, and that they were now returning. So, the assurances from the Fulanis living among us made us to relax, believing that all was well.”
The pastor said he later learned that the Fulani assailants had killed two Christians on the Kaduna side of the border, and that Christian villagers – though likely unarmed, as most are peasant farmers who can ill-afford guns – pursued them to the Plateau state side. From there, he said, the Fulani Muslims decided to invade the Christian villages.
“Apart from destroying homes, the Fulani herdsmen blocked all escape routes and were shooting and killing Christians,” Dakwat said. “There is a point at a Railway Crossing at Tinariya where they blocked the road and killed innocent Christian villagers who had gone to the market at Ganawuri and were returning.”
Identity of Killers
A Fulani leader in Kaduna state’s Kaura district, Ibrahim Sulaiman Abdullahi, chairman of the state chapter of the Miyyeti Allah, reportedly denied that Fulani herdsmen were responsible for attacks in the border area, saying, “We have co-existed peacefully despite our ethno-religious differences, and we continue to wonder who is behind this mayhem in order to continue to incite us against each other.”
Islamic extremist groups have increasingly incited Fulani Muslims to attack Christian areas, and witnesses for some of the attacks reportedly said the assailants’ faces were covered and that they carried sophisticated weapons.
Christians fear that Fulani herdsmen, with backing from Islamic extremist groups, want to take over the predominantly Christian areas in order to acquire land for grazing, stockpile arms and expand Islamic territory.
There were several reports of violence between Muslims and Christians in other areas of Kaduna and Plateau states in the two weeks before Easter, but the chairman of the COCIN Regional Church Council said there were no Christian reprisals related to the Attakar massacres.
“It is not true that Christians carried out any reprisal attacks on the Fulanis,” the Rev. Saleh Mabweh Mangai told Morning Star News. “If you go to the affected villages, you’ll see Fulani herdsmen moving about with their cattle. The claims of reprisal attack are false, and it is the usual way Muslims in Nigeria use false information to deceive the world about happenings in this country.”
He appealed to the Nigerian government to step up efforts to curtail violence against Christians in northern Nigeria. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and reside primarily in the north, according to Operation World. Besides hit-and-run attacks by Fulani Muslims, Christians in Nigeria have also been targeted by the Islamic extremist Boko Haram group in its effort to destabilize the government and impose sharia (Islamic law) nationwide.
Kobobin John, church secretary of a COCIN congregation in Attakar, identified some of Christians killed in the 12 villages as Markus Awai, 70; Linus, 25; Andi Shakarau, 80; Markus Abba, 42; Godiya Abok, 90; Mafan Boyi, 25; and Henry Avong, 25. According to Dakwat, also killed were Mary Lutu, 50; Ayang Musa, 55; Ezekiel Nkut, 12; Babbie Nkut, 15; and Kushit Nkut, 7.
Among those injured, Dakwat identified Zakka Ishaku, 34, and Baba Anthony, 48. John, who spoke to Morning Star News in one of the camps of displaced Christians at Zangang village in Kaduna State, further identified some injured Christians: Zakka Abong, 38; Jonathan Ishaya, 32; Christiana Istifanus, 2; Mary Stephen, 25; and Anthony Bajo, 52.
Dakwat told Morning Star News that 13 Christians in Kaduna state villages and 13 in Plateau state villages were killed in the attacks. In the past decade, the border area has become a target of attacks from both Muslim terrorists and armed Muslim herdsmen, he said.
The 12 affected villages in both states were Kirim, Uchan, Zilang, Bubwat, Mafang, Zadiyen, Telak, Mayit, Bassat, Tingamagwai, Dugrak, and Chicham. Two COCIN church buildings in Kirim and Uchan were burned; four Anglican church buildings were ruined by fire in Zadiyen, Telak, Dugrat and Mayit; and in Tingamagwai, one building of the Evangelical Church Winning All and one Catholic church building were set ablaze.
“We request prayers for, and extend our condolences to, the families of all those who lost their lives during the tragic events of last week,” said the Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, head of Christian Solidarity Worldwide-Nigeria.
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