Gunmen have carried out a devastating attack on up to ten predominantly Christian villages in Plateau State, Nigeria.
The militia, on motorcycles, killed at least 80 people and abducted 60 others during Sunday raids which continued unchecked for hours. The BBC put the death toll as high as 135.
Partners of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, warn of an emerging anti-Christian Islamist agenda behind the growing lawlessness.
Release is calling on the Nigerian government to take urgent action to protect its citizens who are being slaughtered and driven from their homes.
A Nigerian partner of Release International estimates more than 80 people were killed in Kukawa, and upwards of 60 abducted from Kyaram, Yelwa, Dadda, Gyambawu, Dungur, Wanka, Shuwaka, Gwammadaji and Dadin Kowa villages.
Another partner was told by a witness: ‘Bandits arrived on motorcycles and took the villagers by surprise. The bandits, who looked like Boko Haram, killed scores, injured others and burnt down many houses. They did not even spare the children.’
‘More dead bodies’
According to partners of Release, 67 people have been buried so far, and ‘more dead bodies are still being recovered from the surrounding bush. Many injured are currently receiving medical attention.’
They warn: ‘The attack has created a humanitarian crisis, with many people fleeing their homes in search of safety.’
Release International partners say the Federal Government appears to be turning a blind eye to the growing violence.
One partner said the authorities seem absorbed by the coming elections. Nigeria elects a new president and vice president in February/March next year, along with members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The Release partner added: ‘They’re barely paying attention to the fact that the people supposed to elect them are being killed in [large] numbers.’
The attacks, which have been occurring with increasing frequency and rising death tolls, are often blamed on bandits or Fulani herdsmen. But Release partners warn of an Islamist agenda being woven into the lawlessness. The terrorist group Boko Haram, for example, has openly declared war on Christians.
One partner said: ‘These are predominantly Christian villages in southern parts of Plateau State. Prior to this attack, there had been friction with Islamist Fulani cattle herdsmen who have terrorised the villages. They were attacking Christian farming communities and settling in them.
‘Christians and their villages are being targeted for slow extermination.’
Along with murder, the Release partner claims the militias are using rape as a weapon to destroy communities. ‘They make deliberate use of rape as a weapon to dehumanise and impregnate women. Their aim is to create a social distortion in the villages.’
He adds: ‘We continue to request prayer for the thousands of Christian families that are victims of these killings, and for those kidnapped and subjected to all sorts of abuse.’
Release International CEO Paul Robinson says, ‘Release is receiving reports of attacks on an almost daily basis. Many are going unreported by the world and unchecked by the federal government.
‘A sense of outrage is growing among ordinary Nigerians who fear that government inaction is colluding with the terrorists.
‘Nigeria has an obligation to protect its villages and safeguard their lives – whether from the forces of lawlessness and banditry, or from Islamist militias.
‘That so many of the villages under attack are predominantly Christian, and so many of the attackers or either Islamist terrorists or Islamist militia, points to a religious dimension behind the violence. Increasingly, we are seeing once Christian villages being overrun by force and occupied by Islamist attackers.
‘The effect of this sustained slaughter is to destabilise the nation and drive ordinary Nigerians from their homes. Release International continues to urge the Nigerian government to protect its citizens and end this lawlessness.’
Partners of Release International are supporting victims of the attacks and running trauma counselling in camps for the displaced. Release has an appeal to help the growing numbers of Christians around the world who have been forced to flee.
Release International is active in around 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families, as well as Christians suffering oppression and violence, and Christians forced to flee.