By BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and Paul Jongas reporting from Nigeria
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– At least 30 people were feared dead Tuesday, January 7, after suspected Islamic gunmen attacked a Christian village in central Nigeria, local officials and survivors said.
The fighters, who were believed to be Muslim Fulani herdsmen, opened fire on residents and torched dozens of homes in Shonong village in the Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau State, explained Daniel Dem, a member of the state house of assembly.
“Hundreds” of attackers stormed the Shonong early Monday, January 6, when most of the villagers had gone to farms, killing mostly children, women and the elderly, survivor Shom Toma was quoted as saying by Nigeria’s ThisDay newspaper.
Toma, who was treated for gunshot injuries at the regional Vom Christian Hospital, said he “narrowly escaped” as he was moulding blocks around his house when the attackers arrived.
Domestic animals of the targeted farming Christian Berom villagers were “slaughtered in a large number while many others were taken away by the attackers,” Nigerian media quoted villagers as saying.
Another eyewitness, who was not named, reportedly said some 30 human remains were recovered so far, but added that “many” other villagers remained missing. Authorities have not yet confirmed the final death toll.
The attack came barely two days after the funeral for two chiefs of Shonong and nearby Attarkar village, who were reportedly killed two days before Christmas, Nigerian media said.
Thousands have been killed in the last three years in clashes between rival ethnic groups in Nigeria’s middle belt, where the largely Christian south meets the mostly Muslim north in Africa’s most populous nation.
The violence, far from economic centres or oilfields in Africa’s second-biggest economy and top oil producer, are mainly ignored by the central government, human rights groups and church groups say.
Clashes in central Nigeria are often linked to land disputes between semi-nomadic communities such as Muslim Fulani and Christian Berom, but the fighting has also been fuelled by Islamic extremism, BosNewsLife monitored.
The latest battles came more than a a week after suspected Islamic militants killed 12 civilians in attacks on two Christian villages in Muslim-dominated northeastern Nigeria. Witnesses told media that eight victims died when militants attacked a wedding party at Tashan-Alede village in Borno state last Saturday night, December 28, while four others were killed in neighboring Kwajffa village on Sunday, 29.
BOKO HARAM RESPONSIBLE?
The Islamic group Boko Haram, or ‘Western education is a sin’, did not yet claim responsibility. However the group had threatened to target Christians as part of its 4-year Islamic uprising, which has already killed thousands in northeast Nigeria.
Village attacks have become common with many more Muslims than Christians killed this year, according to observers. The battles have continued despite a state of emergency and the deployment of thousands of troops since May.
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, promised last week to “decapitate and mutilate” more people in the name of Allah and ridiculed the United States for putting a bounty on his head, saying: “You can’t in any way harm me.”
In a video message he claimed also responsibility for a December 20 attack on a tank battalion barracks in Bama, in north eastern Borno state.
“Brothers pulverised 21 armoured tanks. People were killed in their multitudes, bodies scattered all over,” he said, adding that his forces “blew out the brains” of soldiers who tried to hide under their blankets.
The video showed the Boko Haram leader seated on a mat surrounded by masked fighters. It included apparent footage of the attack, with burning buildings and fighter jets and armed, masked men walking around them.
“Had Allah allowed us to eat them we would have eaten them but we are not cannibals,” the leader reportedly said. “This is a victory from Allah.”
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, has been under mounting pressure to step up security for Christians in the country’s volatile areas.
He has been in power since May 2010 on the death of his predecessor. Johanthan won elections in April 2011, that international observers gave their general approval.
Previous ballots following the end of military rule in 1999 were criticized by observers for alleged state-sponsored manipulation, though Jonathan’s election sparked violence in the northern stronghold of his main opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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