By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife) – Christians have urged prayers for the surviving loved ones of 20 Nigerian Christian men executed by militants affiliated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State terror group in northeast Nigeria’s Borno State. In May, an Islamic States’ Amaq News Agency video showed the execution of the 20 Christians forced to kneel by knife-wielding militants.
The executions of the captives were accompanied by threatening statements from the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). ISWAP fighters declared that the slaying was a warning to Christians worldwide. An ISWAP spokesperson also said in the recorded remarks that the killings were in revenge for the killing of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the former leader of the Islamic State and a former Islamic State spokesman. Al-Qurayshi died during a raid by American forces in Syria on February 3.
Christian rights investigators told Worthy News that while the captives came from Borno State, the exact time and location of the executions in the area were unknown. Nigeria’s central authorities did not reveal specific details yet. However, its authenticity was confirmed by the SITE Intelligence Group, an American-based non-governmental agency that tracks terrorist activities online. BosNewsLife and its news partner Worthy News also saw the photos.
In response to the video, Jo Newhouse, a spokesperson for advocacy group Open Doors, said, “there are no words to describe the horror and heartbreak that the families of these men must be going through.” However, she stressed that “While ISWAP intends to sow fear with these videos, Christians around the world should be in awe of the testimony that to the best of our knowledge, these men held on to their faith [in Jesus Christ] even in the face of execution.”
In recent months, Islamic State has reportedly stepped up its attacks on Christians and their villages and places of worship in Borno. According to sources familiar with the situation, the group targets Christians in the country and elsewhere for not following strict Islamic rules and allegedly colluding with world powers “to subjugate Muslims,” according to sources familiar with the situation. “The spreading influence of violent jihadist groups in Nigeria is a grave concern,” said Newhouse. “Entire communities have been traumatized and uprooted. And this video is a call for decisive action by the regional governments and the international community to address the multiple factors that create fertile ground for further radicalization that allows these groups to flourish.”
Before the video was released, at least 20 people were reportedly killed or injured in an April attack by the ISWAP group on the market in Iware, a town in Nigeria’s eastern Taraba state. In a statement posted on the social media service Telegram, the group said “soldiers of the caliphate in central Nigeria” had attacked “a gathering of infidel Christians.”
Nigeria is number seven on the annual Open Doors World Watch List of 50 nations where it claims Christians suffer most for their faith.
“More Christians are killed in the country than anywhere else in the world combined,” Open Doors said. “If the list were based purely on violence against believers, Nigeria would be number one.”
Open Doors and advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) were among those urging believers to pray for the Nigerian family members and other loved ones of the murdered Christians. “While little is known about the specifics of these slain men, pray that ‘the God who knows all’ will encourage, comfort, and strengthen everyone who has been grievously impacted by this act of evil,” VOMC said in a prayer alert.
“Also pray that justice will prevail and that those responsible for sowing terror in Nigeria would come to understand the seriousness of their destructive ways, sincerely repent before God, and fully surrender their lives to Christ,” the group added.
VOMC said it hopes that despite “the seemingly non-stop bloodshed, may the patient endurance of Christians throughout Nigeria be greatly rewarded, especially those whose lives have been directly affected by the violence.”