Nigerians on December 26, 2023 fleeing an attack by gunmen at Bokkos in north central Nigeria. AP

Nigerian Army Searching for Killers of at Least 140 Villagers Killed Amid Rising Conflict Between Muslims and Christians

‘It has been a very terrifying Christmas for us here in Plateau,’ says the governor of a largely Christian district in Africa’s most populous nation.

ABUJA, Nigeria — Gunmen attacked remote villages over the weekend in north-central Nigeria’s Plateau state, killing at least 140 people, officials and survivors said Tuesday, the latest case this year of such mass killings blamed on the farmer-herder crisis in the West African nation.

The assailants targeted 17 communities in “senseless and unprovoked” attacks on Saturday and Sunday, burning down most houses in the area, Plateau’s governor, Caleb Mutfwang, said in a broadcast on the local Channels Television.

“As I am talking to you, in Mangu local governorate alone, we buried 15 people. As of this morning, in Bokkos, we are counting not less than 100 corpses. I am yet to take stock of (the deaths in) Barkin Ladi,” Mr. Mutfwan said. “It has been a very terrifying Christmas for us here in Plateau.”

Amnesty International’s Nigeria office told the Associated Press that it has so far confirmed 140 deaths in the Christian-dominated Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi areas of Plateau, based on data compiled by its workers on the ground and from local officials. There were fears of a higher death toll as some people remained unaccounted for.

Some of the locals said that it took more than 12 hours before security agencies responded to their call for help, a claim the AP couldn’t independently verify, but which echoes past concerns about slow interventions in Nigeria‘s deadly security crisis, which has killed hundreds this year, including in Plateau.

“I called security but they never came. The ambush started 6 in the evening but security reached our place by 7 in the morning,” said a youth leader at Bokkos, Sunday Dawum. At least 27 people were killed at his village, Mbom Mbaru, including his brother, he said.

No group took responsibility for the attacks though blame fell on herders from the Fulani tribe, who have been accused of carrying out such mass killings across the northwest and central regions where the decades-long conflict over access to land and water has further worsened the sectarian division between Christians and Muslims in Africa’s most populous nation.

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