By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Christians in central and northern Nigeria say they are mourning scores of fellow-believers killed in recent weeks by Islamic militants. They also remain concerned about ongoing kidnappings of Christian students, including in the nation’s troubled northeast, Worthy News learned.
In one of the bloodiest episodes, Fulani Islamic herdsmen killed 36 Christians in villages across the nation’s Kaduna state in August, according to church and state officials.
The attacks from August 4 through August to Saturday, August 28, targeted villages in Zangon Kataf, Kaura, and Chikun counties, said Christians familiar with the situation.
Some 17 Christians were reportedly killed in Doh (Mado) village, five in Madamai, eight in Buruku and Udawa, three in Machun, and three in Goran Gida.
Reverend Jacob Kwashi, the Anglican bishop of Zonkwa Diocese, and residents of the affected communities said the assailants were Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
Earlier seven people were killed as gunmen suspected Fulani militants attacked small villages in the adjacent Plateau State. They target the town of Miango in the state’s Bassa Local Government Area, Christians told Worthy News.
Advocacy group Barnabas Fund told Worthy News that several persons were injured in the assault “in which the invaders burned down 275 buildings”.
The attacks happened “in a predominantly Christian area between 7 pm on July 31 and the early hours of Sunday, August 1,” Barnabas Fund added.
Pastor Adamu Musa, who was reportedly shot during the attack, urged Christians in published remarks to respond by uniting in prayer. “We should know the world has reached the point that Christians are being hunted and killed because they say we are infidels. We should unite and call on God. He will answer us.”
Amid the turmoil, authorities have reportedly detained Christians for defending themselves and, in some cases, participated in destroying churches, according to several sources.
In Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, local authorities demolished a church building in the Maduganari area of Maiduguri, leading to the death of Ezekiel Bitrus, the son of a pastor, Christians said.
The state’s “Borno Geographic Information System (BOGIS) conducted the demolition on August 5 as church members gathered to protest,” well-informed Barnabas Fund said.
Local security forces of the ‘Civilian Joint Taskforce’ accompanied the BOGIS demolition group, opening fire on the protesters, killing 29-year-old Bitrus and injuring five others.
Williams Naga, chairman of the Borno branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria, reportedly said, “it appears the BOGIS is out to ensure no church is allowed to exist in the state.”
Despite the setbacks, church members gathered at the destroyed church site the following Sunday for their regular worship service in the ruined building, Christians said.
They were “singing and dancing and praising God, and also in defiance of the attempt to take the Christians out of the area,” Barnabas Fund quoted its contact there as saying.
The anti-Christian violence also comes amid concerns about ongoing kidnappings by Muslim hardliners of mainly Christians, including students, girls, and young women.
Worthy News reported earlier that another girl abducted by the Islamist Boko Haram group from the Nigerian town of Chibok seven years ago had been reunited with her parents. That has raised hopes that others still being held will be found, said Borno State Governor.
In April 2014, Islamist militants abducted 276 girls, mostly Christian, from a secondary school in the Chibok area. Around 160 of the girls have subsequently escaped, been rescued, or released, Christian aid workers say.
There have also been emotional scenes on July 25 when 28 students kidnapped by gunmen almost three weeks earlier from Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna State, were reunited with their families. “God has answered our prayers,” said the school’s proprietor, Pastor Ishaya Jangado, in published remarks.
However, while four more students have since escaped, a total of 83 Bethel students were still being held in captivity Thursday, according to Christian sources.
The killings and kidnappings in Nigeria have underscored mounting pressure on Christians by Muslim militants and colluding authorities in several parts of the country.
While in cases of Fulani herdsmen, authorities often cite disputes over land as reasons church sources link the violence to animosity towards debited Christians and attempt to impose a strict interpretation of Islam in several regions.
Nigeria was the country with the most Christians killed for their faith last year, according to Christian rights investigators.
Advocacy group Open Doors’ annual World Watch List said there were 3,530 killed over the November 2019-October 2020 period. That is up from 1,350 in 2019, according to the 2021 World Watch List.
The List comprises 50 nations where Open Doors claims Christians suffer most for their faith in Christ.
In overall violence, Nigeria was second only to Pakistan, and it trailed only China in the number of churches attacked or closed, 270, according to the list.
In this year’s World Watch List of countries Christians face most persecution, Nigeria broke into the top 10 for the first time, jumping to Number 9 from Number 12 the previous year.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who sacked two of his ministers in an unusual cabinet reshuffle Wednesday, has come under mounting pressure to protect Christians better.
Just over half of Nigeria’s, 220 million people are Muslims, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).