An evangelical pastor, his daughter, and more than a dozen other churchgoers were reportedly abducted while one person was killed after a team of gunmen attacked villages in the troubled Kaduna state of Nigeria on Sunday.
According to Nnamdi Obasi of the International Crisis Group, Rev. Zakariah Ido, 11 girls and five men were abducted from an Evangelical Church Winning All congregation in the village of Dankande in the Birnin Gwari local government area in the early hours of Sunday morning.
He tweeted that sources claimed that as many as 20 gunmen were responsible for the attack.
The Nigerian online newspaper TheCable reported that the gunmen also impacted a village in the Igabi local government area of Kaduna.
“It was at about 12:30 midnight. We had combined choir practice in the church with other neighboring communities. We normally hold the combine choir practice from 9:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m,” an unnamed witness told The Cable about the church attack in Dankande.
The source explained that the armed men surrounded the church and began shooting.
“Everybody was terrified but there was no how we could run because they had already surrounded the church,” the witness explained.
According to The Nation, among those abducted at the church are pastor Ido’s daughter and the son of an Assemblies of God pastor.
Pastor Nath Waziri, the district church council secretary, told The Nation that the gunmen asked everyone at the church to surrender their phones and demanded to know who the pastor was.
“After threatening the choristers they became afraid and showed them the pastor home,” Wazir was quoted as saying. “They took him away and his daughter with 15 others amongst which there is the son of the pastor of Assemblies of God Church.”
The Evangelical Church Winning All is one of the country’s largest Christian denominations with over 6,000 congregations.
While it hasn’t been confirmed who is responsible for the attack and abduction, ThisDay newspaper spoke with an eyewitness who claimed that 30 Fulani extremists armed with guns and machetes were responsible for the attack in the village of Guguwa-Kwate in Igabi local government area.
”We are helpless because there is nothing we can do other than to report to the police when such incidents happened,” the eyewitness said. “We have no arms and we cannot stand them, we are just at their mercy because they are well armed and they always come in large numbers.”
The witness detailed how his nephew was killed by the gunmen during an attack on a home.
“They entered one house and were beating people,” the source said. “They kidnapped one man and a woman in the house.”
The witness added that it was the fifth time that gunmen had invaded their community.
“About two months ago, they abducted two people in the farm,” the witness said. “The other person was killed even after we paid them ransom.”
Christian farming communities throughout the middle belt of Nigeria have faced increasing attacks at the hands of Fulani extremists over the last couple of years with thousands being killed and countless homes and churches being destroyed.
While farmer-herder conflicts in the Middle Belt are nothing new, Christians in Nigeria say that the Fulani attacks have escalated in brutality and taken on a religious element in recent years.
“It is really simplifying catastrophic incidents in Nigeria by saying ‘herder-farmer conflict’ and that does not solve the problem,” Stephen Enada, who co-founded the nongovernmental organization International Committee on Nigeria, told CP in March. “We need to face reality on the ground and call a spade a spade. In Southern Kaduna, a village is almost wiped out and over 200 people have been killed in the last week.”
Nigeria ranks as the 12th-worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the State Department designate Nigeria a “country of particular concern" for religious freedom violations.