Radical Islamic militants killed at least eight Christians, including children younger than 5, and wounded several others in an attack in Nigeria’s Borno state, according to reports.
A picture from the scene shows two deceased victims, each appearing to be young children, lying side by side, said the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern about the attack in Borno state’s Kwal area.
ICC added that one of its representatives met with a 2-year-old gunshot wound survivor whose mother was killed in the attack.
According to various reports, the attackers were Islamic Fulani herdsmen or militants from the Islamic State West Africa Province.
The attackers had AK-47 rifles and shouted, “Allah Akbar [Allah is the greatest]” while firing indiscriminately, according to ICC, which said a community member who was given intel about a possible attack had issued a security alert.
“In response to this warning, an ICC representative went to the community before the attack began and rescued 15 children, whom he hid in his home beyond the scope of the assailants,” the watchdog said.
“Despite an early warning, we told government officials, but they kept silent and allowed Fulani militants to kill us,” a leader in the community was quoted as saying. “The government is silent over the killings in my region because we are Christians, not Fulani Muslims.”
There has been an increase in attacks by suspected Fulani radicals against farming communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt states in recent years that have reportedly led to thousands of deaths.
Weapons are being made available to militants in Nigeria through war-torn Libya. And in the country’s Northeast region, the terrorist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province have killed thousands and displaced millions in recent years.
In a report released last year, the Anambra-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) estimated that about 10 million people had been uprooted in northern Nigeria, where extremist violence was most severe, from July 2009 to July 2021.
The report added that about 2,000 Christian schools were attacked during that time.
The atrocities included “massacres, killings, mutilations, torture, maiming, abductions, hostage-taking, rape, girl-child defilements, forced marriages, disappearances, extortions, forceful conversions and destruction or burning of homes and sacred worship and learning centers,” Intersociety reported.
Intersociety said the mass violence had resulted from the “propagation of radical Islamism.”
The Nigerian government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, who comes from a Fulani background, attributes the violence in the Middle Belt states to decades-old farmer-herder clashes. However, Christian human rights advocates have accused the government of overlooking religious elements and not doing enough to protect Nigerian citizens.
Last year, the U.S. State Department removed Nigeria from its list of “countries of particular concern” for tolerating or engaging in egregious violations of religious liberty after it was placed on the list in 2020 by the Trump administration. The removal of Nigeria from the list drew backlash from some human rights activists.
Many have raised concerns about what they perceive as the government’s inaction in holding terrorists accountable for the rising number of murders and kidnappings, which some groups warn have reached the level of genocide.
ICC identified Nigeria as one of its 2021 “Persecutors of the Year.”
“Nigeria is one of the deadliest places on Earth for Christians, as 50,000 to 70,000 have been killed since 2000,” the ICC Persecutor of the Year report states.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reported that at least 4,650 Christians were killed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. That is an increase from 3,530 the previous year. Additionally, more than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped, up from 990 a year earlier.