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By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- Nigerian authorities said Sunday, July 8, that at least 63 people were killed when suspected Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes stormed Christian villages, while missionaries claimed over 50 pastors and missionary leaders died in separate violence.
The attacks rocked Christian villages near the city of Jos in central Nigeria’s Plateau State since Saturday, July 8, said Mustapha Salisu, spokesman for a special taskforce made up of policemen and soldiers deployed in the area to curb years of violence.
Officials initially said that as many as 37 people died in the raids and reprisal attacks that followed, but death toll estimates later rose to over 60 killed.
The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted Mark Lipdo, who runs a Christian advocacy group known as the Stefanos Foundation, as saying that 13 villages have been attacked. He said they were all Christian.
PASTORS, MISSIONARIES KILLED
The latest clashes came on the heels of reports obtained by BosNewsLife from missionary workers that as over 50 pastors and missionary leaders were "murdered so far" in recent weeks, before the latest clashes occurred.
"It is heartbreaking to think of the suffering these native Nigerian missionaries are enduring so that those who are in darkness will hear the gospel of the salvation provided by our Lord Jesus Christ," said Rae Burnett, Africa Director for Christian Aid Mission (CAM).
She told BosNewsLife that several native missionaries and other Christians have been forced to flee northern and other areas of Nigeria where anti-Christian attacks have been carried out, or encouraged, by militant group Boko Haram ('Western education is a sin'), which wants to establish a state based on Islamic law.
Analysts have linked this weekend's sectarian violence to both Muslim militants opposing Christianity and anger over Christian farmers from the south who locals accuse of taking over land from the Muslim-majority.
Paul Jongas, a BosNewsLife stringer and Christian evangelist, counted scores of dead people. He said one senator and one legislator of the Plateau State assembly were also killed this weekend by gun men in the Barkin Ladi area some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) outside the city of Jos.
Among those who died were also many women and children, officials and reporters established.
While a final list was still not completed, Nigerian Christians said that the Muslims, who are of the Fulani ethnic group, attacked Christian villages including Kakuruk, Kuzen, Ngyo, Kogoduk, Ruk, Dogo, Kufang, Kpapkpiduk and Kai.
Before the latest attacks, 43 Christian farms were allegedly destroyed by the Muslim herdsmen. "We went there to investigate. Nobody was arrested. But Saturday, the Muslim herdsmen regrouped and divided in nine groups and attacked about nine Christian communities,” said a Christian leader in a statement distributed by rights group International Christian Concern (ICC).
ICC said it had agreed not to name the leader for security reasons.
Nigerian authorities have made clear they set up additional security, but the Christian leader said the Nigerian government has not done enough to protect Christians. “The Muslim attackers managed to overpower the small government forces around the villages. Most of the military forces in the area protect Muslim villages instead of the Christian villages.”
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Jonathan Racho, told BosNewsLife that "Nigerian security forces are Muslim controlled and the turned a blind eye to the plight of Christians."
He said the bloodshed will continue "unless the government gives serious considerations to the plight of all its citizens," adding that hos group has urged Nigeria's leadership to increase security forces around villages targeted by Muslim mobs "and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
(This is a Breaking News story. Stay for more updates with BosNewsLife. Paul Jongas in Nigeria contributed to this story. Contact BosNewsLife to find-out more about his evangelism work and ways to help him).