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Associated Press/Photo by Jon Gambrell

'Horror film'

Nigeria | Another brutal attack on Nigerian Christians leaves villagers fearing for their lives

Ten days after Muslim gangs brutally massacred hundreds of Christians in three villages in central Nigeria, villagers in the nearby Riyom area met their own horror: A machete-wielding mob swept through a predominantly Christian village on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and burning at least a dozen homes.

For Nigerian Mark Lipdo, the violence in recent weeks that has enveloped the region surrounding his native hometown of Jos has been like "a horror film." Lipdo is director of Stefanos Foundation, a Jos-based organization that helps suffering Christians in Jos' Plateau State. For villagers who have lost everything in the recent violence, the need for help is overwhelming. So is the fear: Locals wonder daily when more attacks will come.

Lipdo witnessed the widespread carnage and mass burial near Jos last week, telling the BBC, "We saw mainly those who are helpless, like small children and the older men, who cannot run, these were the ones who were slaughtered." When news broke on Wednesday of a fresh attack, Lipdo drove to Riyom. From his cell phone on Thursday morning, he described the scene to me: "What I saw was house-by-house raiding. I saw 15 houses burned. And altogether 12 corpses on the ground that were brutally killed and mutilated."

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Media reports have indicated that the recent killings are retaliation for Christian attacks against Muslims in January. But some eyewitnesses sharply dispute the accounts that Christians instigated the fighting that killed as many as 300 Muslims and Christians.

Whatever the case, the attacks on March 7 and 17 were unexpected: In the first attack, Muslim gangs entered villages in the pre-dawn hours, firing bullets in the air. When villagers left their homes to see what was happening, the assailants attacked with machetes. Others burned scores of homes. "Some of them were roasted," Lipdo said of dead villagers. "You could see a little child turned into charcoal. That was the nature of the thing."

This week's attack followed a similar pattern: The mob attacked with machetes and burned homes. Lipdo said one eyewitness told him that some in the mob wore military uniforms, a disturbing layer to a horrifying ordeal.

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the country's south, dispatched troops to Jos to quell the violence, and authorities arrested more than 90 men in connection with the March 7 attacks. But villagers fear the impunity that allowed another mob to march into Riyom on Wednesday, killing and burning at will.

The violence came the same day that Jonathan dissolved the nation's Cabinet, the first major overhaul he has pursued since assuming presidential duties in February. Nigeria's president-a Muslim from the north-is ailing and hasn't made a public appearance since November.

Christians in Jos wait to see if Jonathan can help ease their plight. Meanwhile, groups like the Stefanos Foundation are delivering immediate relief. Lipdo says many villagers are still sleeping in the streets after losing their homes, and little help has trickled in from the international community. For many Christians, fleeing their home villages isn't a viable option, he says, "They are just learning to live with the trauma."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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