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Suspected ISWAP terrorists kill over 20 Christians, abduct priest after shooting their way into church

Nigeria
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images

ABUJA, Nigeria — After more than 20 Christians lost their lives to terrorist attacks in two areas of Taraba state, Nigeria, in the first half of August, a Catholic teacher was kidnapped from a church site, sources said.

Suspected members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) shot their way onto the site of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Dinya village, in Taraba state’s Gassol County, at about 10 p.m. on Aug. 14 and abducted the catechist, Gideon Tsehemba, said the Rev. Lawrence Awua, the parish priest.

“The ISWAP terrorists broke into the premises of our church on Sunday, as we were already in our bedrooms,” Awua told Morning Star News in a text message. “They were shooting indiscriminately in the premises of the church. Our catechist, Mr. Gideon Tsehemba, was forcefully dragged out of the church with a gun pointed at him. I was already in my bedroom, but they thought there was no one around except the catechist.”

The kidnappers have not made contact with anyone from the church, he said: "We hope and pray they do not harm the catechist."

More than 20 Christians were killed in Gassol and Bali counties by Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists during the first two weeks of the month, said Bali area resident Ayuba Matthew.

“Constant killings and maiming of innocent Christians by terrorists and herdsmen bandits have become very common here in Taraba state,” Matthew said. “So also, kidnappings of Christians has become a problem.”

The killings and kidnappings in the two counties displaced more than 10,000 people from the predominantly Christian villages of Karal, Ndiyanwo, Wurojam, Aenama, Garin Karfe, Wuro Jingi, Jauro Manu, Garin Gidado, Gurowa, Karekuka and Chul, he said.

Area resident Julius Ishaya told Morning Star News that terrorists attacked those communities and also the Gassol County villages of Wuro Bokki, Dadin Kowa, Yola-Kareje, Baba Aso, Zip and Namnai. In Bali County, terrorists also attacked Christians in Baba Juli, Garwa, Malam Baba and Bokki, he said.

On Aug. 14 in Borno-Kurku village in Bali county, terrorists shot and wounded a Christian, Tavershima Faga, said area resident Dorcas Titus.

“Mr. Faga was returning to his home from his church after worship service at about 2 p.m. when the terrorists shot him,” Titus said. “He’s currently receiving treatment in a local hospital here.”

On Aug. 12, gunmen attacked predominantly Christian Karekuka village, Gassol County, killing 13 people, including six defenders who shot and killed six of the assailants, according to local news reports.

Terrorism by ISWAP stretched into Taraba state for the first time on April 19, killing six Christians, sources said. After an explosion killed the six Christians and wounded more than a dozen others at a Christian-owned market where alcohol was served in Isware, Ardo Kola County, ISWAP released a statement on a telegram messaging channel asserting that it had detonated the explosive at “a gathering of infidel Christians,” according to local news reports.

ISWAP, an offshoot of Boko Haram, described its operatives as “soldiers of the caliphate in central Nigeria.”

While ISWAP has long carried out assaults in northeastern Nigeria, the Islamic extremists had not been active in Taraba until the attack, which was followed by another on April 22.

An Abubakar Shekau-led faction of Boko Haram in 2016 formally aligned with the Islamic State and changed its name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), though many Nigerians still refer to the Shekau-led faction of ISWAP by its original name, Boko Haram. The Islamic State recognizes the ISWAP faction that broke away from Shekau as its cell in the region, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Nigeria led the world in Christians killed for their faith last year (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.

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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