Nigerian Christian villagers say military helicopter fired on them, not bandits – Catholic World Report

Photo illustration of Nigerian military uniform. /shutterstock

Washington, DC Newsroom, July 4, 2022 / 11:41 a.m. (CNA).

Residents of predominantly Christian villages in north-central Nigeria who were attacked by Fulani bandits on motorbikes on June 5 claim a government helicopter fired on village defenders, but authorities have denied the charge, claiming the crew were targeting the attackers.

The fighting, which lasted for several hours, took place in a cluster of villages about 30 miles south of Kaduna City, Kaduna’s capital. The raid left 32 villagers dead and 29 others, mostly women, kidnapped, according to media reports and security authorities.

In the aftermath, authorities sought to reassure residents that the government was on their side in the bloody conflict with Fulani bandits.

“An air force helicopter (under operation whirl punch) dispatched to the area, intercepted the bandits at the last location (Ungwan Maikori) and engaged them as they retreated, before troops arrived ground in the general area,” Samuel Aruwan, the state commissioner for homeland security, said June 7 in a statement posted on Facebook.

But eyewitnesses and others who spoke to CNA say perhaps hundreds of villagers saw the helicopter firing at armed residents trying to fend off more than 200 invaders.

“The whole village saw the helicopter shooting at the residents,” said Jonathan Asake, the leader of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) who coordinated a meeting of villagers two days after the attack.

In addition, Rev. Denis Sani, head of the local Winning All Evangelical Church as well as a former adviser to the volunteer neighborhood watchmen, told conflict reporter Masara Kim that no ground troops have arrived to rescue residents. from Makori, one of the villages that came. offensive.

Sani told CNA that the helicopter fired a machine gun at him and his fellow Civil Guards, forcing him and his assistant, Jonah Greece, to retreat to the forest for cover.

“We withdrew to avoid being killed, allowing the terrorists to enter the village,” Greece told CNA.

Defend their homes

“The attack started as we were finishing our church services around noon on Sunday,” said Greece, a community doctor in Maikori.

Since the village suffered a massacre by terrorists in March 2019 and an attack earlier this year, able-bodied men have formed a defensive perimeter around the outskirts of Maikori.

“There were no soldiers or police in the village, but about 40 to 50 men gathered their shotguns,” Greece said.

Sani called on the men from the village of Maikori to position themselves behind the trees and tall grass. The attackers were mounted on 70 motorcycles, three fighters on each motorcycle.

Greece said the attackers first invaded the nearby village of Dogon Noma, burning houses and shooting villagers fleeing in the forest. Then they got on their bikes and headed towards Maikori where Sani and the defenders ambushed them with their homemade shotguns and shotguns, Greece said.

At around 1 p.m., villagers noticed a helicopter variously described as white or “silver” hovering over Maikori and firing vertically at the defenders, Greece said.

Claims Denied

Nigerian media have reported that the claim that the helicopter fired on the village defenders has been denied. The villagers, however, keep their count.

To clarify disputed versions of the incident, seven heads of state police agencies met with village chiefs on June 20 in Kufana.

“Aruwan said that while the government has not been totally successful in its main mission, however, it is doing its best to ensure that it has also come to clarify some persistent “misrepresentations” championed by some enemies of progress and government,” Stingo Usman, a Christian community leader from Maraban Kajuru who attended the meeting, told CNA.

Department heads present at the meeting claimed that “there was no way the army helicopter fired on the residents,” Usman said. None of the service chiefs who spoke were present during the attack, he added.

According to Stingo Usman, Ibrahim Usman, the village chief of Dogon Noma, contradicted Aruwan’s account. The village chief told authorities at the meeting that “a helicopter arrived and the locals thought that relief had reached them until they realized they were under attack from both the helicopter and bandits,” Stingo Usman told CNA in a text message.

“The youths then had to run for their lives and from that moment the armed Fulani bandits gained access to the village and set fire to the whole village, and also killed two people there,” wrote Stingo Usman, recounting the statements by Ibrahim Usman during the meeting. .

Kajuru County Representative in the Nigerian House of Representatives, Yakubu Umar Barde, asked for an investigation of a possible complicity between the Nigerian army and the terrorists.

In addition, calls for an internationally led forensic investigation into the complicity between Muslim terrorists and rogue military units have come from Baroness Caroline Coxmember of the UK House of Lords, and Gregory Stanton, retired US foreign service officer and founder of Genocide Watch.

Security officials criticized failing to stop the profanity killing of student Deborah Emmanuel at the Shehu Shegari Teachers College campus in Sokoto on May 12.

Other complaints have been filed against the lax military and police response to other attacks blamed on radicalized Fulani Islamists, including a January 11 massacre in Te’Egbe, Plateau State, and the March 20 in Kagoro, southern Kaduna.

The military’s inactivity and, in some cases, complicity in past terrorist attacks has been noted by the human rights watchdog, Amnesty International.

“Amnesty International has found evidence that security forces received information about impending attacks and in some cases came into contact with assailants but did nothing to stop or prevent the attacks,” it said. the organization in a 2018 statement. report.

“Many attacks lasted for hours, in some cases days, even in communities where security forces were not far away,” the report said.

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