Christians Axed to Death in Church Meeting by Muslim Warriors

Monday, March 8, 2004

A total of 48 people were hacked to death in Yelwa, Nigeria, by armed Muslims, many during a church meeting.

A recent upsurge in violence in southern Plateau State in Nigeria has claimed at least 100 lives and in the worst single incident so far, at least 48 people were murdered, many during an early morning prayer service on February 24.

Armed Muslims invaded the service, ordered the congregation to lie face down and proceeded 'to machete and axe them to death in their house of worship' according to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The victims included women and children.

The Yelwa incident was preceded by an attack on Tunka in Shendam Local Government Area (LGA) during which 18 people were killed, including four mobile policemen who were murdered in an ambush. The deaths of the policemen, who were assigned to the area to maintain peace, caused many to flee their homes.

A local source told CSW the attacks were being carried out by as many as 400 heavily armed Muslims who shouted 'Allah u Akhbar' (God is great), wore red and black uniforms and moved with military precision. As government reinforcements arrived in the area to stop the violence, the attackers are said to have adopted hit and run tactics, striking Christian areas and moving on before troops could engage them. By February 26 there were reports of similar violence in Shendam Town, Mikang, Langtang South and Langtang North LGAs. There were also unconfirmed reports of reprisal attacks by ethnic Tarohs on Hausa Fulanis. Joint army and police action eventually managed to enforce an uneasy peace.

In a strongly worded statement of March 2, CAN called on Muslims in northern Nigeria to emulate their western counterparts by living peaceably alongside northern Christians.

Over 10,000 people have died in religious violence since 1999 when several northern states decided to implement the Shari'ah penal code in defiance of the country's secular constitution. The Wase area of southern Plateau State has experienced intermittent violence since the summer of 2002 when attacks by armed Muslims on the predominantly Christian Taroh tribe left at least 5,000 people dead, 100,000 displaced and over 80 villages destroyed.

There was a lull in the violence during 2003 when the State Governor, Joshua Dariye, convened local peace talks. However, tensions mounted once again on January 3 2004 after it emerged the Muslim Emir of Wase, deeply implicated in the violence of 2002, had brought more than 500 Muslim families to the area to settle in towns and villages abandoned by displaced Christians.

On 11 February the Hausa Fulani delegation responded to a request for a removal of these families by declaring that its members were no longer interested in being part of the peace process, heralding an almost immediate end to the fragile peace in the area. Sources close to Christian NGO Release International confirm that on February 12, 20 youths went missing following an attack by Muslims on the village of Hamale. The sources also report that during an incident on the following day at least 100 people were killed and many houses were destroyed.

On 20 February Muslims from Bukuru are reported to have attacked a church in Tudun Wada. The attackers are said to have arrived in 13 vehicles. They beat the church's guard and threatened to burn down the building, but their plans were thwarted by police intervention.

A local source told CSW the violence may ultimately be aimed at undermining a recent decision by the Plateau State Government to allow the area of Kadarko to administer itself separately from the Wase Emirate. Kadarko is the largest of only three Christian areas remaining in Wase LGA following the violence of 2002.

Local sources also indicate the latest violence is part of a campaign organised by a coalition of local and external extremists.

Right Reverend Ben Kwashi, Bishop of Jos, said: "We ourselves are not discouraged. We have outgrown retaliation, vengeance and anger. We are living by the grace of God and encouraging the faithful not to give in. What makes me sad is that as soon as we begin to reconstruct homes, churches and even people's lives, we get shattered again by events such as these. What gives me joy, on the other hand, is that we are not tired and we will continue with fresh zeal as long as there is life to reconstruct, rebuild and develop."

CSW's Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said: "CSW is deeply disturbed by the renewed violence and horrified by the massacre of Christians during a prayer service. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those affected.

"We call on the Plateau State Government to guarantee the safety of Christians in southern Plateau State and ensure that those responsible for such appalling violence are swiftly brought to justice."

For more information please contact Richard Chilvers, communications manager, CSW on 020 8329 0045 or email or visit