(Photo: Reuters/Joe Brock)
A Nigerian bishop addressed rumors that terrorist group Boko Haram has been kidnapping Christian women and forcing them to convert to Islam.
"That there are kidnappings is a fact, but I am not aware that there is a systematic campaign to kidnap Christian women in order to convert them to force them to marry Boko Haram members. This does not mean that there are rapes of war. These things happen unfortunately in conflict zones," Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, told Fides Agency.
"I am sorry to say but there are people who spread rumors which are not controlled in order to accentuate the sense of persecution of Christians living in areas most at risk in Nigeria. I do not think this helps us. It is always better to tell the truth."
Onaiyekan added that Boko Haram's hold over Nigeria seems to have weakened, though the Islamic extremist organization remains a threat.
"Boko Haram is not what it was only seven months ago. This does not mean that it has been destroyed, but now we are faced with a set of bandit gangs dedicated to robbery rather than a guerrilla-structured organization," the cardinal said.
The Islamic militants have been waging war on Christians and the Nigerian state since 2009, bombing churches, schools and government buildings in its attempts to drive followers of Christ out and establish Islamic rule over the country.
Earlier this month, the U.S. government finally decided to officially name Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, something which a U.S.-based Christian Nigerian organization has been urging for years.
"AT LAST, the United States government has done the right thing, and members of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, CANAN, with about 1,000 local churches in the U.S., are grateful to the LORD for answered prayers. We commend the U.S. President Barack Obama and the State Department for this forthright decision," CANAN said in a statement. The State Department's message signaled solidarity with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in the mission to "help root out violent extremism while also addressing the legitimate concerns of the people of northern Nigeria."
"All of our assistance to Nigeria stresses the importance of protecting civilians and ensuring that human rights are respected. That assistance and these designations demonstrate U.S. support for the Nigerian people's fight against Boko Haram and Ansaru," the association added.