By BosNewsLife Africa Service with additional reporting by Paul Jongas from Nigeria
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- Nigerian Christians are mourning their dead after a weekend of violence and reports that at least a thousand believers were killed in Nigeria since 2012, making it the nation with the highest known Christian death toll.
In one of the latest incidents, at least 39 people reportedly died since Friday, May 3, in Nigeria's Taraba state as clashes broke out between religious Christians and Muslims at a funeral.
Residents said Friday's violence broke out as a funeral procession for a traditional leader passed through a Muslim area of Wukari town. Reporters said that the clashes came a day after a penal was set up to investigate sectarian clashes in February.
These are no isolated incidents.
Last month, almost 200 people were killed in the northern town of Baga, as the military attempted to tackle the Islamist group Boko Haram. The military claimed 37 people died.
Rights groups have urged the government to investigate allegations of soldiers using excessive force in the town and destroyed over 2,000 homes.
Anti-Christian violence has been encouraged by the Boko Haram group and other Islamic militants, rights activists say. "They are so radical they don’t even spare Muslims," said Mark Lipdo, program coordinator for the Stefanos Foundation. "If Muslims are sympathetic to any cause at all … if they are sympathetic to the Christians cause, or the minorities cause, they are also termed as infidels,” Lipdo told the U.S-based Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
Last year, about 900 Christians were killed in Nigeria, according to CBN estimates. Islamists reportedly also killed some 120 Nigerian Christians this year.
Tensions have been rising between Nigerian Muslims, who mainly live in the north, and Christians who mostly live in the south along with followers of traditional animist religions.
The Islamist insurgency by the Boko Haram group has forced thousands of people to flee their homes.
Boko Haram, which means 'Western education is sinful', seeks to establish a strict Islamic state and has repeatedly warned Christians to leave northern areas.
Lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe warned that the country may be on the brink of a full-fledged religious war.
"Because of the massive Christian [and] Muslim population in Nigeria, there is no country on Earth that is as rich and as ready for a religious war. All the elements, all of the ingredients are there," he said.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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