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Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Mayhem continued in Nigeria as suspected Fulani herdsmen burned down the venue of a planned Christian conference in Kaduna state and earlier killed two clergymen in the country’s Middle Belt, sources said.
In Niger state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt northwest of Abuja, suspected Fulani herdsmen kidnapped and killed a Catholic priest on Jan. 15, and an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) pastor was killed on Dec. 10.
The Rev. John Gbaakan Yaji of the Roman Catholic diocese of Minna served St. Anthony’s Parish in Gulu and was also dean of the Lapai Deanery. Gbaakan and his brother were returning from a trip to Benue state when they were ambushed at Tufa village, along the Lambata-Lapai highway, at about 9 p.m., according to the Rev. John Jatau, a priest at St. Theresa Catholic Parish Madalla.
“The priest was taken by his captors into the bush, where he was tied to a tree and killed,” Jatau told Morning Star News by text message. “His corpse was found by a search party the following day.”
Gbaakan’s brother was kidnapped and his whereabouts were unknown, said Jatau, who had traveled with them to Benue and had left them at Suleja, where they proceeded on their journey while Jatau returned to his parish in Madalla.
The Rev. Mathias Echioda, chairman of the Niger state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), decried rampant kidnappings and killings in the state.
“We see such acts as wickedness motivated by religious motives,” Echioda said by text message. “There’s the urgent need for Nigeria’s government to put an end to these barbaric acts.”
The Rev. John Hayab, CAN vice chairman in Northern Nigeria, said people there live in fear.
“The spirit of violence has taken over the hearts of herdsmen, and Christians have become their targets of attacks,” Hayab told Morning Star News by text message. “Priests and pastors now face tough times as they face gruesome death.”
Also in Niger state, suspected herdsmen killed ECWA pastor Jeremiah Ibrahim on Dec. 10 in Chukuba village, Shiroro County. He was the pastor of the ECWA congregation in Kobwa Kuta.
His brother-in-law, Peter John, said the assailants attacked the ECWA church premises where the pastor’s home was located.
“My sister has become a widow,” and her two children have lost their father, he told Morning Star News by text message. “Oh God, rise on your throne and fight those bandits and hoodlums in Erena and Shiroro and all other places in Nigeria.”
ECWA leaders in Kuta said in a press statement that Pastor Ibrahim was shot in the early hours of Dec. 10. The Rev. Adamu Na’Allah, district secretary of the ECWA, Minna District Church Council, said Pastor Ibrahim and his wife were in Chukuba village to harvest crops from their farm when they were attacked.
“A day before they could start the harvest, the bandits came and attacked the church’s pastorium,” Na’Allah told Morning Star News. “Ibrahim and another pastor who was also in the house at the time of the attack hid in the ceiling of the house. And when they felt everything was quiet, they came down from the ceiling, but unknown to them the bandits were still lurking around the premises. Rev Ibrahim dropped from the ceiling and was immediately shot by the bandits, resulting to his death.”
Five Christian women, including the wife of the deceased pastor, were abducted and released after payment of a ransom, he said.
Pastor Ibrahim was buried on Dec. 11 after a funeral service at the ECWA church in Garatu village, Bosso County, Niger state.
Conference Venue Burned Down
On Wednesday (Jan. 27), suspected herdsmen burned down the building where a Christian conference was to have been held Friday through Sunday in Zonzon, Zangon Kataf County, Kaduna state, sources said.
ECWA pastor Love Zidon said the ECWA Youth Fellowship Conference of Zonzon District Church Council was to be held at the venue that herdsmen destroyed Wednesday evening.
A 48-second video clip sent to Morning Star News purports to show the destruction of the conference site. One of the conference organizers says in the video, “The enemy, Hausa/Fulani, came and burned it down completely; therefore, how can peace be obtainable in Atyap land with all these types of atrocities? Therefore, I call on the government for a quick action.”
At the same time, the Kaduna state government confirmed the arrest of three armed herdsmen suspected of attacking Christian communities in southern Kaduna state. Samuel Aruwan, commissioner of the state’s Ministry of Internal Security and Home Affairs, issued a statement on Jan. 22 saying that two “bandits,” the government’s term for herdsmen, were arrested by personnel of the Nigerian army in Zangon Kataf County.
“The two suspects, Abdulhameed Abubakar Bala and Abubakar Abdulhameed Garba, were arrested following a tip-off in connection with their alleged involvement in a series of attacks on Gora Gan, Damkasuwa, Zonzon and Kwaku in December 2020,” Aruwan said. “The suspects are in the troops’ custody undergoing preliminary investigation.”
He said soldiers arrested a third suspect, Shehu Musa, in connection with an attack on predominantly Christian communities in Zangon Kataf, after security agents trailed him to a hospital where he was receiving treatment.
Nigeria was the country with the most Christians killed for their faith last year (November 2019-October 2020), at 3,530, up from 1,350 in 2019, according to Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List. In overall violence, Nigeria was second only to Pakistan, and it trailed only China in the number of churches attacked or closed, 270, according to the list.
Nigeria led the world in number of kidnapped Christians last year with 990, according to the WWL report. In the 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria broke into the top 10 for the first time, jumping to No. 9 from No. 12 the previous year.
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.
The APPG report noted that tribal loyalties cannot be overlooked.
“In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, was elected president of Nigeria,” the group reported. “He has done virtually nothing to address the behavior of his fellow tribesmen in the Middle Belt and in the south of the country.”
The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 added Nigeria to its list of Countries of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Nigeria joined Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on the list.
In a more recent category of non-state actors, the State Department also designated Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban as “Entities of Particular Concern.”
On Dec. 10 the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement calling for investigation into crimes against humanity in Nigeria.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
UCN News shared with Voice of the Persecuted a report of a mysterious fire that damaged a Protestant church in a Pakistani town rocked by blasphemy protests two months ago.
Gospel of Jesus Mission Church is in a narrow street of a Christian basti (slum) in Shahdara town near Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
The remains of burnt holy books, an offering bag and a chimta (music tongs) lay near the half-melted pulpit of the building, which has been under construction for more than three years.
Pastor Yousaf Aziz John filed a police complaint on April 15 at Shahdara police station, where a peace agreement between local clerics and Christian leaders was signed on Feb. 21 after an angry mob protested against Patras Masih, 18, who allegedly shared an anti-Islam photo on Facebook.
“We are a poor community and had been building the House of God with donations. We strongly believe that unknown miscreants have committed this evil. The losses amount to about 50,000 rupees (US$430). We demand an immediate remedy for the wounds of the whole Christian community,” Pastor John told ucanews.com.
Police sub-inspector Rana Amir visited the site on April 16 and recorded statements from the community.
“The forensics department collected samples the same night. A report will be released this week revealing the cause of the fire. A security plan has been chalked for the 14 churches of Shahdara registered with the police station, but no forces are appointed for unregistered ones,” he said.
Churches not registered with the Auqaf Department, which supervises important religious monuments and holy places, are deemed illegal by the government. In January, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province closed but later reopened six home-based churches in Abbottabad.
Police have warned that they will not take any responsibility for any mishaps at prayer gatherings in residential areas. Home-based churches are common in Christian ghettos and their surroundings. Youhanabad, the largest Christian settlement in Pakistan, has more than 100 unregistered churches usually comprising a single room or a hall.
Khalid Shahzad, a Catholic activist based in Shahdara, slammed police for filing the Shahdara case as an accidental fire.
“Only the sections regarding vandalism and loss of property have been nominated in the first information police report. They deliberately skipped the blasphemy clause 295 which deals with acts intended to insult religion or religious beliefs of others. This loophole will help in bail for the accused if arrested,” he said.
“The community was already living in fear after the recent blasphemy case in an adjoining village.” Read more
Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – After a dispute between a group of Christians and Muslims, in the village of Bath, between Multan and Lahore, in Pakistani Punjab, the chapel of the Protestant Christian congregation called “Apostolic Church” was set on fire in the night between 6 and 7 January, as local sources report to Fides. On the evening of January 6, the community had organized a prayer vigil for the Epiphany. The following evening an arson destroyed the inner part of the building. Pastor Zulfiqar, who leads the community, went to the police and filed a complaint against unknown persons. The fire burned Bibles and sacred vessels. The Pastor informed the agents of the dispute which also occurred earlier, which involved loudspeakers used to spread prayers and hymns outside the building: a group of Muslims asked to turn them off during the Islamic prayer. Local Christians put the dispute and the destruction of the church in close correlation, but for now there is no evidence in this regard and the police investigation is underway. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 11/01/2016)
Islamist threats, broken locks, witness statements discounted
Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police are downplaying several signs pointing to arson in a fire reported at 3 a.m. on Tuesday (Nov. 24) at the office of a Christian cable TV station in Karachi, sources said.
Gawahi Television chief Sarfraz William said the fire at the popular Christian channel’s office in Akhtar Colony was an act of sabotage. William said he suspected arson because computers and other instruments were damaged, probably as a result of some chemical being thrown on them, while wooden materials in the office remained unscathed. Computer hard disks were also stolen.
Station personnel had received threats from suspected Islamic militants who warned the station to stop preaching Christianity, William said. Other local sources told Morning Star News that residents of the building complex had seen masked men fleeing the site after setting fire to the building, statements police initially put aside.
Another station official told NBC News that the channel’s security camera had been stolen, probably prior to the fire. The channel’s two-room office is located on the first floor of a residential building.
Action Committee for Human Rights (ACHR) Coordinator William Sadiq told Morning Star News said that unidentified men broke into the locked Gawahi TV office and set computers, Christian literature and office records on fire.
“Police officials are claiming that the fire could be the result of a short circuit, but they are at a loss to explain how the locks were broken,” he said.
He added that witnesses who saw men fleeing the office would have difficulty identifying them because the assailants’ faces were covered.
Sadiq said the fire alarmed the sizeable Christian community in the area.
“Pakistan’s largest church, St. Peter’s, is also located nearby,” he said. “The church holds a Mass of nearly 5,000 worshippers at a time, and the burning of Gawahi TV has caused immense concern among them.”
Gawahi TV has never spread propaganda against believers of other faiths, Sadiq said, adding that law enforcement officials were “trying to brush the matter under the carpet.”
Mehmoodabad Police Chief Inspector Sarwar Commando told Morning Star News that Fire Brigade officials said an initial probe determined the fire resulted from a short circuit.
“The fire was caused by a short circuit,” Commando said. “Although the TV management is claiming that they were under threat by suspected militants, the organization had never reported any security threats to the police prior to this incident.”
But Muhammad Bashir of the Mehmoodabad Fire Brigade told Morning Star News that fire officials had yet to write a preliminary report on the incident.
“We haven’t finalized our report as yet, so it would be premature to say what caused the fire at the channel’s office,” he said, declining to reveal further details.
Police Chief Inspector Commando said police have taken note of local residents’ statements that they saw masked men near the premises, and that police would obtain CCTV footage from the nearby St. Peter’s church to investigate the claims.
The ACHR’s Sadiq rejected police assertions that the incident was caused by a short circuit.
Gawahi TV, established in February 2013 as a joint venture of Catholic and Protestant churches, aims to “spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religions who live in Pakistan.” The channel broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and William said it has a viewership of more than 12 million in Pakistan and abroad.
The Rev. John Arif of the Catholic Diocese of Karachi said that it was disheartening to see the entire building and all equipment burned.
“The channel was set up to communicate the Word of God,” he said. “There have been threats, and now the matter is under investigation. We hope to soon see the channel on air again. We pray for peace and tolerance.”