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11 January 2012

Persecution of Nigerian Christians set to worsen

Persecution of Nigerian Christians set to worsen

Christian human rights groups have called for prayer in response to the wave of violent attacks on Nigerian Christians over the Christmas period for the second year running.

The Islamist militia Boko Haram was responsible for the attacks on churches which occurred on Christmas day, killing 40 people. They were also behind further attacks in northern states on 4-5 January and more attacks on churches on 8 January, bringing the total number of deaths to 54.

Christians continue to come under attack in the north, where they are in a minority, and in Plateau State, which is the dividing line between the mainly Muslim north and largely Christian south. Boko Haram are calling for a breakaway Islamist North Nigeria and the imposition of strict Islamic law. But most Christians living in the north have been there for generations and have nowhere else to go.

The majority of fatalities on Christmas Day occurred at St Theresa's Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, where bombers in a vehicle hurled explosives at the congregation at the end of mass.

Following the attacks, many Christians lamented the fact that their security is no longer guaranteed in northern and central Nigeria. Some are even beginning to avoid church gatherings for fear of being bombed.

Alliance members Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Release International are calling on the Nigerian government to provide better security to prevent and deter further attacks on Christians.

Release has identified Nigeria as a 'persecution hotspot' that may worsen in 2012. They report that throughout 2011 more than 500 Christians were killed in central and northern Nigeria, more than 4,000 Christian houses were burnt or destroyed, and more than 4,000 Christian businesses were attacked and looted.

Release CEO Andy Dipper said: "Pray that Christians will not allow themselves to be provoked into retaliation, and that the government will protect Christians where they are in a minority and deal effectively with the terrorist threat to their nation."

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who died, and to those who were injured in these senseless attacks.

"We urge the Nigerian authorities to institute stringent night-time patrolling of Damaturu's predominantly Christian areas as a matter of urgency in order to ensure a return of public confidence."