Kafanchan, Nigeria, Jan 3, 2017 / 10:46 am (Aid to the Church in Need).- Islamist violence and terrorism has killed more than 12,000 Christians in Nigeria, destroying some 2,000 churches. Boko Haram has perpetrated the bulk of the killings, but in the past year a new source of Islamist terror has hit the country in the form of the Fulani Herdsmen Terrorists (FHT).

In just the last three months, the group — drawn from the rank of the nomadic Fulani people — has swept across half of Kaduna State, in northern Nigeria, a local bishop told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. Bishop Joseph Bagobiri of the Diocese of Kafanchan gave an accounting of attacks in his area since September 2016: “53 villages burned down, 808 people murdered and 57 wounded, 1,422 houses and 16 churches destroyed.”

Though little known in the West, FHT is becoming a huge menace to Christians and moderate Muslims alike. Historically, there have been sporadic conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and farmers fighting over land, but Fulani herdsmen, the bishop said, are now using “sophisticated weapons they didn’t have before, such as AK-47s of unknown provenance.” He added: “In addition to the social and economic that have fueled conflict since ancient times, such as the distribution of the land and shortage of grazing, the dimension of the problem has changed. The Fulani are Muslim and the land they are attacking belongs mainly to ethnic groups that are Christian; now there is religious hatred driving the violence.”

Fulani aggression, the bishop said, “has turned into religious persecution.” The prelate said that in many of the villages that have been attacked, especially the small businesses owned by Christians as well as churches that have been singled out for destruction. He added: “Nor can it be said that the violence is directed against a particular ethnic group, since the Christians belong to various different ethnic groups.”

Bishop Bagobiri expressed dismay that “the persecution of Christians in Nigeria is not given anything like the same level of international attention” as the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Even the Nigerian government, he charged, is not paying enough attention: “the attacks on Christians meet with seeming indifference on the part of the country’s leadership — either the police do not have the appropriate weaponry to intervene, or else they have not been given orders to do so.”

Bishop Bagobiri expressed his conviction that this new terrorist threat reflects the growth of of Islamic fundamentalism Nigeria, in particular the imposition of sharia law, which has now been introduced into 12 of the 36 states of Nigeria, including Kaduna State. Sharia law, the bishop charged, is the source of “inequality and discrimination. For example, Islamic courts frequently set free Muslims who have committed crimes, such as the murder of Christians whom they have accused of blasphemy.”

You can find out more about Nigeria and the issue of religious freedom in the report by ACN on Religious Freedom Worldwide, published November 2016.

Maria Lozano writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)