22 Christians Killed in Attack on Catholic Church in Northeastern Nigeria

church in Nigeria
Members of the congregation dance as they give thanks during a New Year's day service at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Abuja, Jan. 1. A church attack has taken place every Sunday in January in Nigeria's northern and central states. (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde )

Twenty-two Christians were killed in an assault on a Catholic church service in northeastern Nigeria. The attack is thought to have been perpetrated by the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, which the Nigerian government has struggling to contain in the country's northern and central states.

On Sunday morning, suspected militants armed with guns and explosives attacked a Catholic church located in Waga Chakawa village in Nigeria's northeastern state, Adamawa.

Reports by Reuters U.K. indicate the attacker set off bombs prior to opening fire on the Christian congregation. After assailing the church, the militants burned down houses and took local Christian residents hostage during a four-hour siege with local authorities.

When the dust settled, 22 Christians were confirmed dead. This casualty figure was confirmed Monday by spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Yola, Reverend Father Raymond Danbouye, in an interview with Reuters U.K.

This assault is only the latest in a series of attacks on Christians living in Nigeria's northern and central states starting in December. So far, this wave of deadly violence has claimed the lives at least 63 Christians.

From Dec. 8-11, Boko Haram militants attacked four predominately Christian villages in the Gwoza, Damboa and askira-Uba Local Government areas. These attacks left at least 26 Christian dead and over 40 Christian homes burned to the ground.

In January, an attack has taken place every Sunday on Christians in Nigeria's northern and central states. On Jan. 19, Christians living in the Agatu Local Government Area in central Nigeria were attacked in separate raids on two villages by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, thought to be incited to attacking Christians by Boko Haram. At least seven Christians were killed in those violent raids.

On Jan. 12, eight Christians living in Gari Village in Nigeria's northern Borno state were killed by Boko Haram militants. On the Sunday before, Jan. 5, Christians living in the Manchok area were attacked, but managed to avoid casualties due to timely military intervention.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is a sin," has a stated goal of establishing a separate Islamic state in Nigeria's northern and central regions. The Islamic terrorist group intends to implement its fundamentalist interpretation of Shariah law.

In 2012 Boko Haram demanded all Christians living in northern and central Nigeria to flee south so that a purely Islamic society can be established. Since then, Boko Haram has used church bombings, drive-by shootings and raids on Christian villages as a part of its strategy to 'purify' northern and central Nigeria.

"Boko Haram's slaughter of Christians in northern and central Nigeria has continued unabated so far in 2014," said William Stark, regional manager for International Christian Concern. Because these attacks are becoming so common and widespread, many Christians in these areas fear attending church due to the likelihood of coming under attack. The only 'crime' many of these Christians have committed is belonging to what Boko Haram considers the 'wrong' religious faith.

"ICC applauds the action taken by the U.S. to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, but more has to be done to end the slaughter. The Nigerian government, who declared a state of emergency in several of Nigeria's northern states, must take decisive action to ensure the safety of Christians living in Nigeria. If decisive action is not taken, the unbelievable violence being perpetrated against Christians in Nigeria will only continue to accelerate and will likely reach genocidal levels in the near future."    

This article originally appeared on persecution.org.

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