SANTA ANA, Calif. Gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles surrounded a church in central Nigeria Monday (Aug. 6) and opened fire during a worship service, killing more than a dozen.
According to the Associated Press, the attackers killed 19 of the worshippers at Deeper Life Bible Church in the town of Otite in Kogi state, located 155 miles southwest of Nigeria's capital, Abuja. Another report from Africa put the death total at 16 and the number of seriously wounded at nine. The church's pastor was among those killed.
No arrests had been made as of Tuesday morning, AP reported. No group has claimed responsibility for the massacre. However, the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram has attacked numerous churches and has vowed to make Nigeria an all-Islamic country while driving out all Christians. An Associated Press count put the number killed by Boko Haram at 660 this year. That number includes many Christians as well as moderate Muslims and police.
"The increasingly intentional activity of Boko Haram has taken on the characteristics of a real war," said Open Doors USA President Carl Moeller. "These are not random attacks as they're often characterized in the media. They are intentional, and they're designed with one purpose in mind: the elimination of Christianity. I call it 'religicide' or the intentional and systemic effort to eliminate a religious belief and its followers from a country or region.
"Our prayers go out to the families of the victims and members of the Deeper Life Church. May they experience the peace which only our Lord can give."
Open Doors USA is among a group of religious leaders and human rights advocates who 10 days ago sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressing their deep concern regarding the continuing religiously motivated violence in Nigeria. Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land also signed it. The letter calls on the State Department to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization as well as to work with the Nigerian government to provide improved security for religious minorities.
Nigeria is ranked No. 13 on the 2012 Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians.