ILORIN, Nigeria, August 14 (Compass Direct News) – Blaming the death of their leader on Christian prayers, an Islamist group that launched a hate campaign in response to an evangelistic event in 2004 is reportedly attacking Christians in this Kwara state capital with renewed virulence, area Christians said.
At least three Christians have died and several others have been injured in attacks with machetes and other weapons since June, clergymen said. They said the attacks began after the death in May of Dr. Ali Olukade, head of a local group of Islamists called Tibliq, possibly patterned after the worldwide Tablighi Jamaat missionary movement.
Dr. Olukade was critically injured in an auto accident in 2006, and after extensive recovery efforts he succumbed to his injuries in May. His extremist followers, according to the Rev. Cornelius Fawenu, secretary of the Kwara chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), believe that his death was the result of prayers by Christians upset when Muslim threats cut short a major event by German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke in 2004.
Islamic uproar over the evangelistic event in Ilorin forced it to a venue outside the city, and Bonnke had to “abort” three days of the planned five-day event, Rev. Fawenu said.
When the local Tibliq leader was injured in the car crash in 2006, Rev. Fawenu said, “The members of his Muslim sect went on rampage, demonstrating against America and the state of Israel, over claims that it was the prayers of Christians over the aborting of the gospel event of 2004 that caused their leader to be involved in an auto crash. Dr. Olukade, the Muslim sect’s leader, died in May 2008, and since then Muslim fanatics have embarked in serial killings and attacks on Christians in the city.”
The group from the Tibliq movement in Ilorin, Rev. Fawenu said, had spear-headed opposition to the evangelistic event.
The Kwara chapter of CAN has received 10 reports of Christians attacked by the Muslim extremists in the past two months, Rev. Fawenu said, adding that he believes unreported assaults on Christians average about four daily.
Facts on even the confirmed reports, however, are few. Last month the state CAN chapter petitioned the inspector general of police to investigate the attacks on Christians in Ilorin, which Rev. Fawenu said resulted in the death of a former leader of an Evangelical Church of West Africa congregation known only as Pastor Habila. The former church leader was assaulted in the Oke Oba area of Ilorin in June and died on June 15 from his injuries, Rev. Fawenu said.
“The corpse of another Christian victim was found along stadium road, with his Bible beside him, on June 18,” Rev. Fawenu said. “So also, a young Christian girl living near the stadium road was also murdered in the same manner within this period.”
The Kwara state CAN leader said he did not have the names of these victims but that their deaths resulted from attacks that fit a pattern of other area assaults – taking place after dark as Christians either went to or returned from church services.
Another church leader injured from an attack, he said, is known only as Pastor Olagunjo. Rev. Fawenu said the assaults have reduced attendance at Christian worship services in the state.
The Kwara chapter of CAN staged a three-day prayer rally over the attacks from June 30 to July 2, which drew large crowds.
Samuel Ajiboye, pastor of New Testament Christian Mission in Ilorin, told Compass that Muslim extremists attacked a member of his church, Nanle Nathaniel, in June.
“Nanle Nathaniel was attacked on June 11 near our church,” Ajiboye said. “He saw a man with a machete coming towards him, and before he realized what was happening, the man cut him on his head with the machete, and thereafter fled.”
Ajiboye added that Nathaniel shouted and dragged himself to a nearby house, where neighbors phoned the pastor, and he told them to take Nathaniel to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. At press time Nathaniel was still receiving treatment for nerve damage on his head, he said.
Ajiboye echoed the Kwara state CAN leader’s assertion that there are many Christian victims of such attacks, and that some of them have died.
Another survivor was Rachael Harry of Blessed Chapel, a church in the Sango area of Ilorin. Attacked on June 25, she also received head injuries for which she received hospital treatment, according to 70-year-old pastor and photojournalist Gabriel Oki Olufemi, of Chapel of Redemption church in Ilorin.
“While being attacked, she was rescued by her neighbors,” Olufemi told Compass. “I was there shortly after she was attacked, and I personally took pictures of her and interviewed her.”
Olufemi said Harry was about 100 meters from her house when she was attacked. “She was a trader returning from the Ministry of Agriculture, where she sells food,” he said, adding that she was attacked at about 7 p.m. near the home of her pastor, who was out of town at the time.
“Only yesterday [August 7], I was told that another Christian was attacked by the railway station in the city,” Olufemi said. “The police recovered an iron rod from the scene where she was attacked. All those killed or attacked are Christians.”
Olufemi said he interviewed another girl who was attacked near the venue of the June 30-July 2 prayer rally. “So also,” he said, “a young Christian man was attacked while on his way from night vigil in his church.”
Islamist Sect Fingered
The group said to be behind the attacks, Tibliq, may reflect the influence of the radical Sunni Tablighi Jamaat, a worldwide missionary movement originating in India in 1927.
Active in north African countries such as Morocco and Algeria, the secretive Tablighi Jamaat describes itself as pietistic but comprises an extremist wing that advocates jihad through the sword, according to a 2005 article in the Middle East Quarterly. Yusef Fikri, a Tablighi member and leader of the Moroccan terrorist organization At-Takfir wal-Hijrah, was sentenced to death for helping to plan the May 2003 Casablanca bombings that killed 45 people.
“Tablighi Jamaat has always adopted an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam,” Alex Alexiev wrote in the Middle East Quarterly, “but in the past two decades it has radicalized to the point where it is now a driving force of Islamic extremism and a major recruiting agency for terrorist causes worldwide.”
Rev. Fawenu recalled the evangelistic event in 2004 that he said is at the root of recent attacks. The rally by German evangelist Bonnke was to take place in the heart of the city, he said, but Tibliq-led Muslim opposition led to the Kwara state government moving the event to a village miles outside of Ilorin.
“However, two days into the five-day event, the government again brought the police to stop the event,” he said. “The event was aborted following opposition from Muslims in the city.”
After the leader of the Tibliq, Dr. Olukade, was injured in the car crash, he was taken to a hospital in Germany but returned to Nigeria last November with his condition still critical, Rev. Fawenu said.
“Before his death,” Rev. Fawenu told Compass, “Dr. Olukade was a medical doctor with the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, and was also the proprietor of TIM Hospital Ilorin.”
Most of the victims of the attacks, he said, have been treated at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, as well as at the Delink Hospital in the Oja-iya area of Ilorin.
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