Armed bandits in Nigeria’s Kaduna State have killed two of the more than 60 worshipers of Emmanuel Baptist Church whom they had kidnapped during a church service about two weeks ago, a local Christian leader has confirmed.

People react as a truck carries the coffins of people killed by the Fulani herdsmen, in Makurdi, Nigeria, on January 11, 2018. | REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

“The bandits opened fire on five of their victims … and killed two people while three others were seriously injured and are currently in the hospital,” Rev. Joseph Hayab, Kaduna chapter’s chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said in a statement, as quoted by the PUNCH news outlet.

See also: Over 60 Members Of Baptist Church Kidnapped In Nigeria, CAN Seeks Govt’s Intervention

The gunmen stormed Emmanuel Baptist Church in Kakau Daji area in southern Kaduna on Oct. 31, the international Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors reported at the time, adding that the telecom networks were down at the time of the attack.

“The church was unable to call for help, whilst the bandits have reportedly asked for a higher ransom because they had to travel farther for network service to contact the victims’ relations.”

The lives of the abducted Christians are “in danger and require urgent intervention of government and security agencies,” Rev. Hayab said.

“The insecurity in Kaduna State has continued to grow beyond our imagination and is threatening the peace of the nation.”

Haya earlier told the anti-communist global news outlet Epoch Times that the Baptist church “is the worst-hit church in this state.”

More than 140 students were abducted in July as they were scheduled to take their final exams at Bethel Baptist High School in the Chikun local government area in Kaduna.

The abductors promised the parents that their children would not starve if they provided rice, beans, palm oil, salt and stock cubes. They said a ransom demand would follow, Reuters reported at the time.

Terrorist groups with a foothold in Nigeria have carried out mass kidnappings in recent years, including kidnapping over 200 girls from a school in Chibok in 2014.

Dede Laugesen, the executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that terrorists will often kidnap boys and brainwash them to become jihadis.

Many Nigerians have raised concerns about what they perceive as the government’s inaction in holding terrorists accountable for the rising number of murders and kidnappings.

Some terrorists, like Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province and radicalized members of the Fulani herding communities are motivated by money, while others are inspired by Islamic radicalism.

Security analysts say kidnapping for ransom is becoming a lucrative industry in Nigeria. And weapons are becoming readily available to militants in Nigeria thanks to war-torn Libya.

CAN has appealed to “well-meaning individuals, organizations, those in authority, especially the Federal Government and the international community, to come to our rescue.”

“The evil we are experiencing is more than what an ordinary person in Kaduna and Nigeria can handle. CAN is appealing to all Christians and people of our state to be united in fighting this evil and be watchful,” Rev. Haya added.

In Kaduna and across Nigeria’s farm-rich Middle Belt, there has been an increasing trend of attacks in recent years on predominantly Christian farming communities. Some pinpoint the beginning of the trend to have started around 2015 as estimates suggest that thousands have been killed as Fulani radicals have been accused of invading countless communities.

Despite calls for government action to thwart the violence, the government has long attributed attacks and reprisals as part of decades-old farmer-herder clashes, a defense some human rights advocates say ignores the religious components of the violence.

“That is a distorted representation of what’s really happening. In fact, there is a farmer-herder aspect to the violence,” Epoch Times Africa Desk Editor Doug Burton told The Christian Post this week. “But that discounts the fact that the preponderance of the attacks are sectarian in … nature.”

Critics have warned that the government’s lack of action in the Middle Belt could lead to a religious “genocide” similar to those seen in Darfur or Rwanda. However, the Nigerian government has pushed back on such claims.

Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA ranks Nigeria at No. 9 on its 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. Nigeria is also recognized as a “country of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department for tolerating or engaging in severe violations of religious freedom.

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