RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Authorities in Nigeria are continuing to investigate after gunmen raided more than a dozen communities in the country's north-central Plateau state, killing at least 140 people. According to Amnesty International's Nigeria office, the bulk of violence occurred in predominately Christian areas.
"For me, what is going on is a genocide against the Christian community. It's an unprovoked attack. Those were unprovoked attacks. There was no reason for (it). They call them 'bandits', but I don't think they are bandits. There was no reason for those guys to go kill the number of people they killed," said Rev. Godspower Ugboh, who serves at Emmanuel Anglican Church in Raleigh.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the slaughter, herders from the Fulani tribe have received focus, as they have been accused of perpetrating killings in portions of the country where growing concerns over land and water access have inflamed tensions between Christians and Muslims.
"This indeed has been a very gory Christmas for us. We have had to celebrate with a heavy heart because just when people were finishing preparations for the Christmas celebrations, unprovoked attacks were unleashed on several of our communities," said Caleb Mutfwang, the Governor of the Plateau State, part of an address posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.
"I strongly condemn the heinous and brutal attacks in Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi Local Government Areas of Plateau State, which have tragically resulted in the loss of many lives. I have directed our security agencies to immediately move in, scour every part of the zone, and apprehend the culprits responsible for these atrocities. Furthermore, I have ordered the immediate mobilization of relief resources for the surviving victims of these primitive and cruel attacks, as well as ensuring medical treatment is provided for the wounded. While condoling with the government and the people of Plateau State, I assure all Nigerians that the envoys of death, pain, and sorrow responsible for these acts will not escape justice," wrote Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on X.
Monday, Amnesty International Nigeria's office reported the death toll topped 190 people, and called on the government to investigate "inexcusable security lapses."
"We cannot handle what is going on in Nigeria by ourselves. Nigeria needs to reach out to foreign nations, for instance, the United States of America, and ask for intelligence support to deal with this situation," said Rev. Ugboh, who grew up and spent most of his life in Nigeria prior to moving to the United States.
He has been in Raleigh for five years, and noted some of his congregants were on holiday in Nigeria at the time of the attack.
"The (Nigerian) government is not doing enough to identify (sponsors of terrorism) and address it head-on. So that's why it is escalating," Rev. Ugboh explained.
Less than two weeks prior to this latest round of violence, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom released a statement expressing concern over religiously-motivated attacks in Nigeria, highlighting three separate incidents in the previous month.
"USCIRF is alarmed by the amount of violence and attacks taking place throughout Nigeria in the north and south in recent months. This momentum is not stopping, and we cannot stand by and watch more Nigerians being targeted on the basis of their faith, especially as we near the holiday season where we have seen this escalation in the past," said USCIRF Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie. "USCIRF reiterates its call for the State Department to designate Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern, which is merited based on its own reporting on religious freedom conditions in the country."
A US State Department spokesperson said it could not confirm motivations for the Christmas Eve attacks, adding experts have noted a number of sources for previous conflicts, ranging from ethnic divisions, politics, criminality, lack of justice and accountability for violence, increasing competition over dwindling land and water resources, and religious identity.
Following the attacks, the US Mission in Nigeria posted to X: "The U.S. Mission in Nigeria condemns the recent attacks in Plateau State and expresses heartfelt condolences for the tragic loss of life. It is imperative that those responsible for these heinous attacks are held accountable."
Ugboh urged the Nigerian government to be more forceful in identifying the groups involved in these attacks, while expressing hope for peace in the region.
"I think we can we can coexist as a country, as one nation," said Rev. Ugboh, who noted that Muslims have also been killed in previous attacks.
A US State Department spokesperson described religious freedom as a "key U.S. foreign policy priority," noting they continue to work with governmental counterparts to protect human rights in Nigeria.