The attack took place near Nigeria’s middle belt, where the Muslim north meets the southern Christian area.
While none of the attackers have been arrested so far, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to find those responsible for the shooting.
“This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting,” he tweeted.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.</p>— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) <a href="https://twitter.com/MBuhari/status/988799479632596993?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 24, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa, also decried the violence.
“Tuesday’s killing of priests and parishioners on the grounds of St Ignatius Catholic Church in the Makurdi Diocese signals that the religious violence in Nigeria is escalating,” he said. “It’s imperative that Nigerian authorities punish those who are culpable, lest violence worsen during the upcoming election cycle.”
“Nigeria should explore justice system reforms that address grievances so that herdsman – the perpetrators of much of the recent violence – cease targeting farmers, exacerbating religious and ethnic tensions in the process,” Smith continued, adding that the creation of a religious equity commission would also be timely.
Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has increased in recent years, as climate issues have pushed herders further south.
By mid-January this year, more than 100 deaths had been attributed to the herdsmen.
The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria voiced grave concern about the violence in a January statement. They recognized the challenges faced by the herdsman, but expressed the need for better alternatives to open grazing.
“Government should rather encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in line with international best practice,” the bishops said.
“Farmers and herdsmen have a lot to contribute to the socio economic prosperity of our nation. A more enduring strategy must be worked out for their peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.”
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