Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists on Sunday July 16 killed six Christians in Benue state, Nigeria, the latest of 37 Christians slain the past three weeks in the state, sources said.
The assailants arrived on motorcycles at the predominantly Christian villages of Igba-Ukyor and Tse Baka villages, Ushongo County, at about 8 p.m. on Sunday, said Ushongo resident Bemgba Iortyom.
"The terrorists, who accompanied armed herdsmen, first attacked Igba-Ukyor village, where they killed five Christians, and then proceeded to a second village, Tse Baka, where they killed one Christian," Iortyom told Morning Star News in a text message.
Two other predominantly Christian communities were attacked in Ukum County on July 8, resulting in the massacre of 30 Christians, area residents said. Zaki Akpuuna and Diom villages were attacked at 11 a.m., said Kartyo Tyoumbur, the Ukum council chairman.
"The band of terrorists was made up of about 20 who were armed with deadly weapons," Tyoumbur told Morning Star News. "They burned down several houses. Thirty corpses of Christians killed were recovered, while searching for missing Christians is ongoing."
Saying victims were members of the Universal Reformed Christian Church (NKST) and the Roman Catholic Church, he identified some of the slain in Zaki Akpuuna as Kator Terwase, Aondowase Kator, Albert Tsavnongo, Mbaalumunga Felix, Terzungwe Kartyo, Hangeior Agudu, Terkimbi Umough, Ushahemba Akerchi, Friday Ezekiel, Terwase Mkoholga, Ayu Ageva Vaakaa, John Ikpor, Bem Shima, Vanger Kwaghkaa, Shaagee Tyokaa, Mfedoo Mamfe, Koholga Sase, Iorlumun Dai, Kwaghmande Mngueorga, Msugh Terwase, Ngutor Oraduen, Iortange Uye and Aker Orgema.
On June 30 in Tse Anwhwan village, Logo County, one Christian was killed and two others wounded in an ambush at about 8 p.m., said Council Chairperson Salome Tor.
"The armed men ambushed and opened fire on the victims and murdered one Mr. Saater Apera, a member of the NKST church, and also shot and injured two other Christians," Tor told Morning Star News. "The incident was reported to the police, and the corpse of the murdered Christian was recovered, while the two injured victims were taken to the hospital for treatment."
Catherine Anene, spokesperson for the Benue State Command, said security personnel were deployed to the areas.
"Terrorists have been invading some communities in some local government areas of Benue state," she said. "Police teams, in collaboration with other security agencies, have been deployed to affected areas in order to engage these bandits. We believe that these unprovoked attacks would be contained."
Benue state officials said they have appealed to the federal government to take urgent steps to end the atrocities. The Rev. Hyacinth Alia, a Roman Catholic priest who was elected governor of the state in May, said in a statement that the attacks were a grievous sin against God and mankind.
"A directive has been given to security agents to arrest those behind these unlawful acts and bring them to book," Alia said. "I send words of condolence to those whose loved ones were killed in these attacks and pray to God for their comfort."
Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists killed at least 46 Christians in Benue state in June, part of a recent trend of mass killings in the state.
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.
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.