Terrorists massacred 160 people, many of them preparing for church Christmas programmes, Saturday night through Christmas Day in coordinated attacks on predominantly Christian areas in Plateau state, Nigeria, sources said.
Church pastors were killed and hundreds of houses were destroyed in the massacres in villages of Barkin Ladi, Bokkos and Mangu counties, officials and residents said. The assailants killed the Rev. Solomon Gushe of Baptist Church in Dares village along with nine of his family members, said Bokkos County resident Dawzino Mallau.
"Some pastors were killed, and another pastor and his wife and five children were killed during these attacks," Mallau told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News in a text message. "These terrorists who attacked these Christian communities were in the hundreds, and they carried out the attacks as the hapless Christians were preparing for Christmas programmes lined up by their pastors."
Most of the Christians killed were women, children and the elderly unable to escape, he said.
Alfred Mashat, another resident of the Bokkos area, said hundreds of houses were destroyed.
"About 160 Christians in these villages were killed by the terrorists," Mashat said in a text message to Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. "We believe they are carrying out these attacks alongside armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen."
Among the predominantly Christian villages attacked, he said, were NTV, Maiyanga, Ruku, Hurum, Darwat, Dares, Chirang, Ruwi, Yelwa, Ndun, Ngyong, Murfet, Makundary, Tamiso, Chiang, Tahore, Gawarba, Dares, Meyenga, Darwat and Butura Kampani.
Mashat identified some of the Christians killed in the attack on Maiyanga village as Sati Solomon Langweng, David Jallang, Gauis Adamu, Mafulul Langweng, Nafor James Markut, Matawal Gauis Adamu, Fidelis Solomon Jallang, Emmanuel Amos Jallang, Sule Shahu, Mildred James Markut, Maren Paul Mashok, Samuel Mamot and Machief Mangut.
Four Christians slain in Daruwat village he could identify only as Tanko, Haruna, John and Salo.
Local officials on Monday confirmed the attacks, reportedly stating that at least 160 people were slain. Monday Kassah, head of the local government in Bokkos, told AFP that 113 people had been killed there in "well-coordinated" attacks in at least 20 villages.
More than 300 wounded people were rushed to hospitals in Bokkos, Jos and Barkin Ladi, he said. Dickson Chollom, a member of the state parliament, told AFP that at least 50 people were reported dead in villages in the area, while Bokkos area resident Solomon Musa told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News that the bodies of 60 Christians in the Bokkos Council area were recovered and buried.
"Another 26 corpses were buried in Barkin Ladi Council area on Christmas Day," Musa said. "On Saturday, Dec. 23, Muslim terrorists attacked Christian villages in Bokkos Local Government Area, attacks that continued to Christmas Day."
In Bokkos LGA's Ruwi village, 16 Christians were killed, many others were wounded and many houses were destroyed, he said.
Alfred Alabo, spokesman for the Plateau State Police Command, said in a press statement that the assailants on Sunday night (Dec. 24) attacked 12 villages in the Bokkos LGA: Ndun, Ngyong, Murfet, Makundary, Tamiso, Chiang, Tahore, Gawarba, Dares, Meyenga, Darwat and Butura Kampani. That same hour, at about 10:45 p.m., three villages in Barkin Ladi LGA were attacked, he said: NTV, Hurum and Darawat.
In Bokkos LGA, 221 houses were set ablaze, 27 motorcycles and eight other motor vehicles were burned, and more than 79 persons were killed, Alabo said, adding that in Barkin Ladi LGA, 17 deaths were initially recorded.
Plateau Gov. Caleb Mutfwang on Monday (Dec. 25) said that at least 50 people had been killed in Mangu and Bokkos counties in the prior 48 hours.
"This is unacceptable. Enough is enough. These stupid, senseless and unprovoked acts must stop," Mutfwang said, vowing to "strengthen security agencies in the efforts in tackling insecurity in the state."
The assailants are described locally as "bandits," shorthand for a mix of criminal elements including ethnic Fulani herders hit by drought and dwindling land for their cattle. Riding motorcycles and well-armed with sophisticated weapons obtained from criminal elements outside of Nigeria, some of the predominantly Muslim assailants are said to be mercenaries from Chad or Niger.
Estimated to number in the tens of thousands, such assailants have been active in northern Nigeria for more than a decade but have increasingly expanded into Plateau, Benue and other states, including some in southern Nigeria. Christian leaders and other observers also believe elements of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and a faction aligned with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) form part of some of the attacking criminal gangs.
Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in the 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 2022, with 5,014, according to Open Doors' 2023 World Watch List (WWL) report. It also led the world in Christians abducted (4,726), sexually assaulted or harassed, forcibly married or physically or mentally abused, and it had the most homes and businesses attacked for faith-based reasons. As in the previous year, Nigeria had the second most church attacks and internally displaced people.
In the 2023 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria jumped to sixth place, its highest ranking ever, from No. 7 the previous year.
"Militants from the Fulani, Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and others conduct raids on Christian communities, killing, maiming, raping and kidnapping for ransom or sexual slavery," the WWL report noted. "This year has also seen this violence spill over into the Christian-majority south of the nation. ... Nigeria's government continues to deny this is religious persecution, so violations of Christians' rights are carried out with impunity."
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 2020 report.
"They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity," the APPG report states.