'Mass graves litter the countryside': Over 40 Christians slaughtered, 58 kidnapped in Christmas attacks

REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

ABUJA, Nigeria — One Christian was killed and 53 were kidnapped on Christmas Day in southern Kaduna state, Nigeria, after more than 40 Christians were slain in the week leading up to the holiday, sources said.

Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists on Dec. 25 attacked Angwan Aku village in Kajuru County, Kaduna state, at about 10 a.m. local time, area resident James Akawu said.

“Church worship service was about to commence when the attackers arrived at the village riding on motorbikes and shooting sporadically,” Akawu told Morning Star News in a text message. “They killed one Christian and kidnapped 53 other Christians who are still being held captive.”

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In Kaura County, residents said herdsmen and other terrorists killed 40 Christians in Mallagum on Dec. 18 and another three Christians in Kagoro on Dec. 23, area sources said.

Mourners at a funeral for 40 Christians slain in Mallagum, Kaura County, southern Kaduna state, Nigeria, on Dec 22, 2022.
Mourners at a funeral for 40 Christians slain in Mallagum, Kaura County, southern Kaduna state, Nigeria, on Dec 22, 2022. | Morning Star News

“We’re being attacked again by terrorists. There are gunshots everywhere again this night,” Kagoro town resident Jay Awan told Morning Star News in a Dec. 23 text message. “This is worse. Please we need help.”

Another resident, Amos David, on Dec. 19 sent a text message saying Kagoro was attacked beginning the prior Sunday night.

“Homes and barns are still burning as I send out this message to you,” he told Morning Star News.

The Rev. Stephen Panya Baba, president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), sent out a prayer request in a group text message on Dec. 23.

“Right now (9:45 p.m.) there are gunshots from the suspected Fulani herdsmen,” Baba said, recalling that the assailants had struck nearby Mallagum the previous Sunday. “The dead were just buried yesterday, Thursday. Now in less than a week, they are back again.”

Kagoro is home to the ECWA Theological Seminary, the ECWA College of Health Technology and several churches. Town resident Emmanuel Gandu said terrorists were destroying both lives and property.

“Family life has been disrupted, the lucky survivors have become refugees in their land waiting for palliatives in an endless genocide they can’t understand,” Gandu said. “Mass graves litter the community and the countryside. Our people can no longer go to their farms for fear of being gunned down or macheted.”

Settlements and villages yet to be attacked have become ghost towns as people have fled, he said.

“Lamentably, the Fulani terrorist attacks have continued unabated as they are heard chanting, ‘Allah Akbar [Allah is greater]’ during the killing and destructive expeditions,” Gandu said. “It is on record that Kagoro has suffered 13 deadly attacks with catastrophic consequences from 2011 to Dec. 23, 2022.”

Without decisive and urgent action, he said, Christians in Kagoro could be wiped out.

In nearby Mallagum, 40 Christians were killed and more than 100 houses were burned down on Dec. 18, area sources said.

“The attackers, whom we know are herdsmen and armed bandits, attacked our town at about 11 p.m. on Dec. 18,” Mallagum resident Rikichi David said in a text message. “Six members of my family were among those killed.”

Speaking at a funeral for the slain on Dec. 22, the Rev. Benjamin Bala, a Roman Catholic priest, noted that he and others began hearing gunshots after 11 p.m. on Dec.18.

“We made efforts to contact security agents. After one or two calls, however, the network became inaccessible,” Bala said. “Within few minutes, many houses were in flames as we could hear helpless people who were trapped, crying for help that did not come until their voices went silent in painful death.”

By the next day, Dec. 19, at least 40 people were killed, many others wounded, 102 homes were burned down along with grain houses, and many people were displaced, the priest said. The attack was executed simultaneously across various villages, he said, with ammunition shells apparently from machinegun-like weapons recovered.

“In this attack, about six families were entirely wiped out,” Bala said, adding that the assailants fled after police later arrived with counter-gunfire.

The Rev. John Hayab, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kaduna State Chapter, corroborated that 40 Christians were killed at Mallagum, as did Luka Biniyat, spokesman for the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU).

“Members of six families who totaled 40 were killed by the herdsmen and bandits, while 102 houses were burned down,” Biniyat said. “Their homes were also looted as food stuffs and other household valuables were carted away by the terrorists.”

Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a recent report.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.

Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.

Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith in recent years (Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021) at 4,650, up from 3,530 the previous year, according to Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List report. The number of kidnapped Christians was also highest in Nigeria, at more than 2,500, up from 990 the previous year, according to the WWL report.

Nigeria trailed only China in the number of churches attacked, with 470 cases, according to the report.

In the 2022 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to seventh place, its highest ranking ever, from No. 9 the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit's mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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