Nigerian Christians Told to Abandon Churchgoing to Avoid Islamist Violence

On November 19, Friday, an unknown person delivered a letter to the police headquarters in Gusau, a city in northwestern Nigeria. The letter threatened Christians in the Zamfara state not to hold public worship or Sunday services. If they do, they will be attacked; their members will be abducted, and their churches will be burned.

Mohammed Shehu, Zamfara State police command's spokesperson, said they had created a special task force to patrol areas surrounding Christian churches and to protect worshipers. "Plain-clothes personnel have been deployed for intelligence gathering," Shehu added.

No specific group has claimed responsibility for the letter. However, the Zamfara police office stated that a particular Fulani association admits to writing the letter.

The Fulani people are a primarily Muslim ethnic group that live in West Africa. They can be found in significant populations in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger.

The letter demanded that Christian churches be closed and threatened that if they were not entirely closed after three years, "we will start burning them." The group behind the letter also threatened to kidnap and attack churches. "We are going to start with churches located outskirt of Gusau," the letter added.

Fr. Chris Omotosho, Director of Communications of the Diocese of Sokoto, said they have taken measures to protect Christians. "No formal statement has been made by Church officials in the State, but internal strategies are at work," Fr. Omotosho added.

In the letter, the group pins the Christians for starting the problem. The Christians "were the ones that started causing this problem," the group said. "They harmed our children at Saminaka area and chased away our cows while rearing behind the Karma Hotel," they added.

A spokesperson for the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) dismissed the claims by the group through the letter. They label the threats of kidnapping and other criminal activities as "handiwork of terrorists." "No Christian Should Be Killed in Zamfara," the spokesperson added.

CAN calls the threat divisive by "declaring war against Christians," referring to the Fulani association that claimed responsibility for the circulated letter. "We have no problem with Islam or with our Muslim brothers and sisters but with the handful fanatics and their financiers who have declared war against Christianity," the association added.

CAN leadership was also worried about the impunity and the frequencies of the previous attacks in the area. CAN said criminals are "killing and kidnapping with impunity in the area as if there was a pact between them and the security agencies."

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