“I first took the women to my personal house to hide them. Then I took the men to the mosque,” the imam told the BBC, which protected his identity for safety reasons. He said he wanted to help them because 40 years ago, the Christians in the area allowed the Muslims to build a mosque.
He stood his ground when the attackers arrived and demanded he bring the Christians out of his mosque, threatening to kill him and burn down the structure.
Along with a number of other Muslims in the community, he pleaded with the attackers and to his amazement, they left, but burnt two nearby churches on their way out.
“Ever since they took us into the mosque, not once did they ask us to leave, not even for them to pray,” said the local Christian leader. “They provided dinner and lunch for us and we are grateful.”
The Christians ended up staying with the imam for five days, after which they relocated to a displaced persons camp that houses 2,000 people similarly chased out of their homes. For these Christians, there is no going back – their homes, livelihoods and animals were destroyed and there is no presence of government security forces to protect them.
The latest violence claimed the lives of 238 Christians over the weekend in Nigeria’s central Plateau State. It is part of a campaign of “pure genocide,” according to activists in the region. The Christian Association of Nigeria reported more than 6,000 Christians have been killed this year alone.
“There is no doubt that the sole purpose of these attacks is aimed at ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and forceful ejection of the Christian natives from their ancestral land and heritage,” the organization said in a statement.
The Christians charge the government with ignoring the slaughter, saying it falsely paints the killings as clashes between farmers and herdsmen.
Yet, they ask, “How can it be a clash when one group is persistently attacking, killing, maiming, destroying and the other group is persistently being killed, maimed and their places of worship destroyed?”
The campaign against the Christians is waged by Fulani herdsmen, some of whom are believed to be foreigners.
In the latest attacks over the weekend, authorities say five communities were rampaged, although locals say the number was 11.
“They killed four of my children,” a 70-year-old man in tears told the BBC.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar [God is greatest],” the Fulanis looted the houses and shops and then set them on fire. They burned the livestock as well as the churches.
A survivor of one such attack showed the BBC a mass grave. “In this community alone 83 persons died,” he said, “see how they are buried. We were born here. Where do they want us to run to?”
Watch the trailer of Clarion Project’s latest film, Faithkeepers, about the violent persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The film features exclusive footage and testimonials of Christians, Baha’i, Yazidis, Jews, and other minority refugees, and a historical context of the persecution in the region. To host a screening of the film or find out what you can do to help stop the genocide, click here.