By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Suspected Islamic gunmen in Nigeria freed 70 hostages, including 61 members of the Emanuel Baptist Church, in the country’s Kaduna State, but deadly clashes overshadowed their release, Christians confirmed Tuesday.
The Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said the hostages
regained their freedom at the weekend, 35 days after most were abducted in a deadly attack.
Friday’s release came while elsewhere in the state gunmen raided the community of Ungwan Gimbiya, near Kakau Daji town, killing two people and more than 50 villagers, Christian aid workers told Worthy News.
Christian charity Barnabas Fund which works in the region said a local Christian leader confirmed the number of Friday’s abductions by “suspected Fulani militants” who are Muslims.
The Barnabas Fund source was quoted as saying that “the bandits struck in the early hours of today (Friday). The bandits visited a total number of 13 families. The attack lasted for about two hours with heavy gunshots.”
The source wasn’t identified amid security concerns. Barnabas Fund told Worthy News that most people who fled had been accounted for as they emerged from the bush. “Those those who fled to other villages are now gradually returning.”
Witnesses said the armed Fulani group numbered between 200 and 300 fighters.
The clashes overshadowed the joy of the Christians' scores released on the same day in Kaduna state.
They were among 66 worshippers kidnapped Sunday, October 31, when suspected Islamic gunmen, locally known as “bandits,” raided the Emanuel Baptist Church in Kakau Daji.
The abductors reportedly shot five of their victims, killing three and injuring two.
CAN, one of Nigeria’s main umbrella groups of Nigeria’s Christian denominations, said nine other abducted victims were also released with the 61 Baptists late Friday.
It wasn’t immediately whether a ransom had been paid or other conditions were fulfilled for their release.
Authorities said the victims were handed over to the state government by the military for a reunion with their families. They were reportedly also being taken to the hospital for post-trauma evaluations.
Barnabas Fund stressed that the kidnappings and clashes were part of a broader anti-Christian campaign in the region where scores of believers died since September. “Attacks on Christian communities in Kaduna State have been numerous. [For instance] Gunmen killed 35 people in two separate attacks on churches in the state on 26 September,” it recalled.
The concerns about violence against Christians in Nigeria added pressure on the United States to rethink its relationship with the African nation.
CAN condemned the recent U.S. government’s decision not to list Nigeria as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) on freedom of religion.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken ignored a recommendation made by the independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
In April 2021, USCIRF recommended that Nigeria re-designate a CPC, warning of a “Christian genocide” if its government cannot protect Christians from Islamist terrorism.
The appeal comes as an East-West battle rages over influence in Africa, where China has increased its commercial footprint.
But CAN President Samson Ayokunie urged the U.S. to remain committed to defending the rights of Nigerian Christians and to re-designate the country as a CPC.
He effectively asked the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to explain the difference between the violent persecution Christians are facing now and when Nigeria was first listed as a CPC in 2020. “This is because all those factors that put Nigeria on CPC list for the first time in 2020 are still there,” he added.
Christians are also caught in the middle of a rivalry between different Islamic crime groups and militants.
Nigerian media reported that a recent rivalry clash between two “bandits groups” killed ten bandits. The clashes reportedly occurred in recent weeks in the Sabon Birni forest, in the Igabi Local Council area of Kaduna State.
Also, two persons lost their lives after an outlawed vigilance group, locally known as Yansakai, attacked a Fulani settlement in Kankara Local Council of Katsina State.
The clashes suggested a battle for influence between different groups in the troubled state, where Christians have been targeted by both Islamic militants and organized crime groups.