JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Gunmen killed six Christians in an early morning attack yesterday on Dinu village in southern Plateau state, a month after Muslim Fulani herdsmen shot a Christian to death in a nearby village, Christian leaders said.
The identities of the gunmen and the victims were not immediately known, though the Rev. Johnson Kikem, chairman of a nearby Regional Church Council of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), reported that church members who fled the village in Wase Local Government Area said the assailants were Muslims.
“Some of our church members there who escaped from the village and ran to us here in Langtang brought the news of the attack,” Kikem said. “We have been told that six of our members have been killed.”
On June 18, ethnic Fulani Muslims killed Toma Vongjen, 40, in a village in Bakin Rijiya of the Wase area, 216 kilometers (134 miles) southeast of Jos in Plateau state, and left church buildings in four villages in ruins (see Morning Star News, June 21).
Fulani Muslims have long fought over property with Christians of other ethnicities, and Islamic extremist groups are suspected of inflaming the herdsmen’s anti-Christian sentiment. The Fulani herdsmen and the predominantly Christian, ethnic Tarok farmers have accused each other of castle-rustling and retaliatory violence in recent months.
In Langtang Local Government Area 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Wase, however, more than 30 Christian men, women and children were slain in three villages in southern Plateau state on June 27 by suspected Islamic extremists from outside of Nigeria, authorities said.
Initially a Muslim spokesman for the military’s Special Task Force (STF), Capt. Salisu Mustapha, said the Christian residents of Magama, Bolgong and Karkashi were attacked by Fulani herdsmen in apparent retaliation for cattle theft. The extent of the massacre and the STF’s firestorm response – killing 20 of the assailants in gun battles, and tracking down and killing another 100 – indicated the attacks resulted from more than tribal conflict, and a week later a more authoritative STF officer denied the attack grew out of ethnic tensions.
“This is not a case of ethnic crisis between [Muslim] Fulani and [Christian] Tarok, it was a case where some gunmen came to attack residents of three communities of Langtang South Local Government,” Maj. Gen. Henry Ayoola, commander of the STF in Plateau state, told reporters in Jos on July 3. “We found that most of the attackers were not even Nigerians; also, many of them wore talismans and all manners of things over their bodies.”
Two of the assailants were reportedly apprehended, but the military has not given any further information on the identities of the gunmen. Ayoola indicated that the foreign assailants had been brought in by Nigerians.
Fulani spokesman Sanihu Jauro reportedly denied that Muslim Fulani herdsmen were involved in the massacres in the Langtang area, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of Jos. The BBC quoted him as saying, however, that 1,000 head of cattle had been stolen prior to the attacks, and that authorities had been unresponsive to Fulani pleas for protection. Officials have reportedly recovered about 500 of the animals and were seeking the rest.
Police and Christian leaders reported that 23 people were killed in the Christian community of Magama, and several houses were destroyed; in Bolgang, eight Christians were killed; and a Christian leader told Morning Star News that two others were killed on the road between Magama and Karkashi.
Kikem of COCIN told Morning Star News that other villages had also been attacked, raising the death toll.
“The number of Christians killed may be as high as 70, as corpses of Christians killed while fleeing these attacked villages still litter the bushes,” he said earlier this month. “The Muslim attackers chased their Christian victims on motorcycles and were killing them as they tried to escape. So many dead bodies have been recovered from the bush, and we believe that more may still be found.”
Mark Lipdo, executive director of the Stefanos Foundation, a Jos-based organization serving the persecuted, confirmed the attacks in a press statement, saying thousands of Christians had fled. Nanman Darko, chairman of the management Committee of the Langtang South Local Government Council, told Morning Star News that more than 6,000 displaced persons took refuge in Mabudi town.
“As for the injured, we have nine injured Christians being treated here at the General Hospital,” Darko said. “So far, we have recorded over 100 houses that have been burnt down by the rampaging Muslim Fulani attackers in these villages.”
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.
Military and police officials said the Christians killed were from the Tarok and Goemai ethnic groups. The Tarok are mostly members of the Church of Christ in Nations, while the Goemai are mostly Roman Catholics.
Plateau State Police Commissioner Chris Olakpe told reporters earlier this month that attacks beginning June 27 went on for 10 days, striking not only Magama, Bolgang and Karkashi, but also Fajul, Yamini, Yelwal, Shendam and Agikamai.
Area Christian leaders told Morning Star News that thousands of displaced Christians from these communities and have fled to camps in Mabudi, Langtang and Shendam towns.
The Rev. Nandip Miri, a COCIN pastor in the area, told Morning Star News that his father and brother were both killed in the attacks.
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