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200 or more Christians massacred in Christmas attacks across Nigeria

A victim of terrorist attacks on Christians in Nigeria is buried on Christmas day. Christian Daily News, Morning Star News

PLATEAU, Nigeria (BP) – Terrorists killed more than 200 Christians in a series of Christmastime attacks on villages in Nigeria’s Middle Belt and the northeast, humanitarian and advocacy groups reported.

The death toll continues to rise from attacks conducted by bandits – a term encompassing organized terror groups and other criminal groups – Dec. 23-28 in as many as 80 villages in Plateau State, Christian aid group Release International reported Dec. 30. Bodies continue to be discovered, and attacks are expected to continue, Release International reported.

“My house was burnt and I mourned on Christmas day,” International Christian Concern (ICC) quoted Naomi, a resident of Mayong who lost four family members in the attacks and fled to a camp for internally displaced persons.

Additionally, unidentified terrorists killed eight Christians in Taraba state in northeastern Nigeria Dec. 28, following the massacre of 13 Christians in the area the previous week, Morning Star News and Christian Daily International reported Jan. 2.

Another two Christians were killed on Christmas in Adamawa state, also in northeastern Nigeria, Christian Daily and Morning Star said.

In Christmas Eve attacks alone, nearly 200 villagers were killed in 21 Christian villages in Plateau, ICC reported Dec. 28, basing the numbers on reports from Plateau State government officials, Amnesty International Nigeria and the Nigerian Red Cross.

Pastors and their families were among the dead, Christian Daily and Morning Star reported Dec. 26, with the elderly, women and children representing a disproportionate number of those killed.

“These terrorists who attacked these Christian communities were in the hundreds, and they carried out the attacks as the hapless Christians were preparing for Christmas programs lined up by their pastors,” Dawzino Mallau, a resident of an attacked village in Bokkos County, told Christian Daily and Morning Star. “We believe they are carrying out these attacks alongside armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen.”

Churches and homes were destroyed, more than 32,000 residents were displaced, and at least 300 wounded residents were treated at hospitals, according to reports. Christian Solidarity Worldwide identified the destroyed churches as the Baptist Church in Dares, the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) in Mbong, the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) Church in Maiyanga, the COCIN Church in Ndun, the COCIN Church in Tahore, the CAC Church in Longhair, the COCIN Church in Ngha-buk, and the COCIN Church in Hurum. The attacks on the Middle Belt were said to be the deadliest since militant Fulani herdsmen and others killed 225 in a series of attacks in 2018.

Just days before the attacks, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned “a recent uptick” in Islamist insurgent attacks on religious communities across Nigeria.

“We cannot stand by and watch more Nigerians being targeted on the basis of their faith, especially as we near the holiday season where we have seen this escalation in the past,” USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie said in the Dec. 14 press release.

USCIRF continues to urge the U.S. State Department to designate Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern “for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

USCIRF noted the killing of at least 10 Christians in Taraba State by militants, the kidnapping of 150 people in Zamfara State and the murder of 15 rice farmers in Borno state by Boko Haram in the month preceding the Dec. 14 statement.

“The United States must hold the Nigerian government accountable for failing to protect the religious communities within Nigeria,” USCIRF Commissioner Frank R. Wolf said, calling for an investigation into the “effectiveness of U.S. assistance to Nigeria in achieving religious freedom objectives in the country.”

Nigerian Christians have accused the Nigerian government of failing to protect vulnerable communities and allowing attacks to continue unchallenged for hours.

The Middle-Belt Forum (MBF) – a self-described socio-cultural, non-religious and non-partisan group – accused the Nigerian government of complicity in the attacks, Arise News reported Dec. 27.

Nigeria’s government has long known that the Mahanga forest in Plateau State is the hideout insurgents and terrorists use as a launching ground for all attacks, MBF said, but the government has “deliberately fortified this evil theatre from any destruction thus providing a safe haven for these terrorists to smuggle arms, train their mercenaries and unleash unimaginable terror on innocent citizens without any provocation whatsoever.”

Militant Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’adati wal-Jihad (JAS) and the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) are major terrorists active in Nigeria.

Nigeria is the deadliest country for Christians, with 5,014 Christians killed there in 2022 for their faith, surpassing the 4,650 killed the previous year, Open Doors US reported in its 2023 World Watch List.