By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- Nigerian Christians appealed for prayers Tuesday, April 2, after Easter season violence in troubled central Nigeria left as many as 80 people dead and displaced some 4,500 others.
At least 19 people were killed since Easter Sunday when gunmen believed to be nomadic Muslim cattle herders attacked the mostly Christian Atakar group in Kaura district, a remote area of Kaduna state, officials said.
Witnesses said the attacks on three communities, including the Mafang and Zilang villages, killed many women and children. Kaduna police spokesman Aminu Lawan told reporters his forces were still investigating.
Ataka Christians live near Plateau state where authorities claimed fighting between cattle herders, who are mainly Fulani Muslims, and Christian villages killed nearly 60 people in recent days.
The area is on the uneasy dividing line between Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north and largely Christian south.
Christians said that following Sunday's violence, thousands of villagers fled to the nearby hills.
Local government official Kumai Badu said in published remarks that some 4,500 people were displaced and two camps had been set up to house them.
Some who returned later to assess the extent of the damage were also murdered, according to rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Assailants also razed several homes, Christians said.
Many of those displaced by the destruction are reported to be staying in the local Amisi Primary School, as well as in nearby Fadan Attakar and Mifi villages.
"We request prayers for, and extend our condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives during the tragic events of last week," said Reverend Yunusa Nmadu, the chief executive officer of CSW-Nigeria.
"We also call on the relevant state governments to provide urgent assistance to the injured and displaced," Nmadu added.
The latest violence came after at least 36 people died and dozens of houses were burned in neighboring Plateau state when ethnic Fulani Muslims raided Christian villages in the week leading to Easter.
The military said the latest casualties were in addition to at least 23 people killed in attacks in the volatile region on March 20 and 21.
In of the latest incidents in Plateau State, nine people were killed and three injured Thursday, March 28, when gunmen believed to be Fulanis attacked the village of Ratas in Barkin Ladi area, police and government officials said.
Emmanuel Lohman, a government official in Barkin Ladi, said that the assailants, armed with assault rifles, struck opened fire in the night while many villagers were sleeping.
Christian villagers, who farm the fertile soils of Plateau, blamed nomadic "Hausa-Fulani cattle herdsmen" for the attack.
Muhammadu Nura, the state secretary of a cattle breeders association, reportedly said that Hausa-Fulani people had been killed in "reprisals", but denied herders were involved the attacks.
An attack and subsequent shootout in the Bokkos area killed 25 people on Wednesday, March 27, by suspected Fulanis news reports said. Two police officers were wounded by gunfire.
Violence in the Riyom district left at least two police officers dead when their patrol was ambushed March 25 after at least 30 houses were burnt in the area on March 23, police said.
The attacks have triggered fears of a wider conflict in an area where thousands have been killed or displaced in recent years in a cycle of attacks and reprisals.
Local Christians, who are mainly farmers, have expressed concerns that Fulani Muslim herdsmen take over land to store arms and prepare further attacks in the region.
Nmadu said "the systematic manner in which these attacks now occur indicates a greater degree of organization than has previously been the case."
The reverend added that the tensions require an "urgent reassessment of strategy" by the government "and a surge in the number of troops assigned to these areas."
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that recent "escalation of assaults on villagers on the Plateau-Kaduna border, the consistent targeting of women and children and the mass displacement of inhabitants appear to be part of a deliberate attempt to rid these areas of their original inhabitants."
Thomas said it "is worrying that armed groups can still move freely, attacking for lengthy periods despite a security presence in each state." Rights investigators have urged governments of Kaduna, Plateau and even Bauchi States to track down and apprehend the perpetrators.
Islamic group Boko Haram, which means 'Western education is a sin', has also been linked to attacks against Christians as it seeks to carve out an Islamic state. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).