- (Photo: REUTERS/Joe Penney)
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors has released its top 10 list of countries where Christians face the most violent attacks for their faith, with Nigeria topping the list.
"The alarming trend of violence against Christians in Nigeria over the past months highlights the lack of religious freedom they have and the daily dangers they face from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and other violent Islamic organizations," said Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. David Curry.
"Going to school, attending church or identifying yourself as a Christian is a very brave decision in Nigeria. It is turning into a bloodbath. Christians in the West must stand in the gap with our prayers and support."
Boko Haram has been waging war on the Nigerian government for over five years now, and has often targeted churches, blowing up and shooting entire congregations in its missions to drive out Christians from the country, which make up close to half the population. Just two weeks ago, suicide blasts in Kano that killed 20 people reportedly targeted the minority Christian churches there.
The other countries identified on the list, which was based on recorded incidents between Nov. 1, 2012, and March 21, 2014, are as follows: Syria, Egypt, Central African Republic (CAR), Mexico, Pakistan, Colombia, India, Kenya and Iraq.
Thousands of Christians were killed in a number of the countries on the list, according to Open Doors. There were 2,073 Christian martyrs in that time-frame in Nigeria, followed by 1,479 in Syria and 1,115 in CAR, both of which are locked in violent civil wars.
In total from all countries where Christians are persecuted, there were 3,641 churches and Christian properties destroyed, and 13,120 other forms of violence against Christians such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages.
The list is different from Open Doors' World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution, which was topped by North Korea in 2014; Nigeria came in at number 14.
Jan Vermeer, Open Doors field worker for North Korea, explained that when it comes to Christians being martyred, it is very difficult to get accurate stats from North Korea.
"This is not because there are no Christians being killed for their faith. It is a fact that thousands of Christians are starved, abused and tortured in North Korean's extensive prison system," Vermer explained.
"But due to an inability to derive sufficiently accurate figures about the reasons for killing Christians in this most secretive society, North Korea is excluded from the total number of killings."
Frans Veerman, director of World Watch Research, noted that violence against Christians is widespread across the globe, from Africa to the Middle East and Latin America.
"Islamic extremism, tribal antagonism and organized corruption are the main persecution engines fueling violence, with Islamic extremism being the major engine in seven of the top 10 countries," Veerman explained.