JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Four Christians killed in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Taraba last week were among at least 76 slain in the state in the past five months, Christian leaders report.
Well-armed Islamist mercenaries from Niger accompanied ethnic Fulani herdsmen in attacks on eight towns and villages across four local government areas in the southern part of state, they told the head of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria. The assailants also destroyed three church buildings.
On Thursday (July 31) the assailants killed three Christians in their homes in Mayokam, Bali Local Government Area, and one in Danburam, they said. Since March, mercenary-backed, Islamist Fulani herdsmen have killed 30 Christians in Ndo Yakuima, 24 in Bajimba, and 11 in Nayinwa, Tudun Wada and Yamini. In Nwokyon, at least seven Christians were killed.
“They were saying, ‘We have killed and destroyed these infidels, and we must take possession of their lands; here we shall establish an Islamic state,’ and this is evidence that we are facing a genocide against Christians in this state and in northern Nigeria,” the Rt. Rev. Timothy Yahaya, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Taraba state, told Morning Star News.
Fulani herdsmen have long attacked settled Christian farmers in Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, Taraba and Adamawa states, but in the past year analysts have begun to see some ties between the assailants and Islamic extremist groups keen to exploit longstanding ethnic, property and religious conflicts.
In the attacks on Mayokam and Danburam villages last week, Christian leaders said more than 100 armed, Fulani Islamists attacked at about 3 p.m. and set fire to several houses. They said that since the beginning of the year, and especially the past four months, Fulani herdsmen in collaboration with mercenaries from Niger have been invading Christian communities in the local government areas of Takum, Donga, Wukari, Bali, and Ibi.
“Several towns and villages belonging to only Christians have been attacked and destroyed, and many people have been killed, while the few that survived now live in destitution where they are taking refuge,” Yahaya told Morning Star News by phone.
He said the 24 Christians killed in Bajimba were members of a Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria (CRCN) and were at worship when they were attacked. The Fulani terrorists burned down three CRCN church buildings in the villages of Ndo Yakuima, Yamini and Danburam, he said.
“In Takum Local Government Area in Taraba state, where the insurgents started after leaving Benue state, many villages and towns were burned down completely, and farm produce destroyed,” Yahaya said. “From Takum, the insurgents headed for Wukari Local Government, attacked about 20 towns and villages, and maimed, killed and rendered Christian survivors homeless.”
In the Donga Local Government Area also in southern Taraba, Islamic jihadists have destroyed almost every town and village belonging to Christians and occupied some of the deserted towns and villages, he said.
“The attacks are coordinated and executed by Islamic extremists mostly hired from the Niger Republic to actualize the dream of the Islamic extremists in the state to establish an Islamic state in northern Nigeria,” he said. “The Islamic extremists use sophisticated weapons to unleash terror on their victims, the innocent and God-fearing Christians in the affected communities, mostly at night.”
In Ndo Yakuima in Wukari Local Government Area where 30 Christians were killed, the town was completely destroyed along with a church building, Yahaya said. In the towns of Nayinawa, Tudun Wada, and Yamani where 11 Christians were killed, church buildings were also destroyed.
The Christian leader said the gunmen shouted “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” as they killed Christians and burned down their houses, he said.
While Muslim Fulani have historically had property disputes with Christian farmers, Yahaya said attacks on Christian communities in Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau, and Kaduna states by the herdsmen constitute a war “by Islam to eliminate Christianity” in Nigeria.
Joseph Kwaji, a police spokesman for the Taraba State Command, confirmed the attacks by Fulani gunmen on Christian communities in the state to Morning Star News.
On March 16 Fulani herdsmen in Taraba state killed an estimated 35 Christians in attacks on 10 predominantly Christian communities. The assault on those villages came on the heels of an attack on the nights of March 8 and 9 in the Ibi Local Government Area by armed Fulani herdsmen.
One survivor reportedly said the assailants killed three Christians in Wurusu village and two others in Kiorkende village on March 8. Another said five other Christians were slain in Gishirin Hassan village on March 9. Ezekiel Imoh, deputy superintendent of police, confirmed the attacks.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent. Those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.
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