Jos — Islamist militants have claimed responsibility for the deaths of more than 50 people in north-central Nigeria - and called on the country's Christians to convert to Islam. Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa issued a statement that the Islamist group carried out the attacks on more than a dozen villages last weekend (June 30 - July 1) and said it will continue to attack the country's Christians.
According to the statement: "Christians in Nigeria should accept Islam, that is true religion, or they will never have peace."
"We do not regard them as trusted Christians as some illiterates are campaigning because it was Christians that first declared war on Muslims with the support of government."
Violence in Plateau state last weekend was blamed on members of the predominantly Muslim Fulani ethnic group, which attacked Christian tribes in the region in March 2010 due to political and social tensions. According to a Red Cross statement issued late Sunday (July 1), aid workers counted 58 dead - but other estimates place the number higher. Press Trust of India reporters stationed in the capital Abuja stated that 135 people were killed.
In the statement Boko Haram thanked God for the massacre: "We praise God in this war for Prophet Mohammed, we thank Allah for the successful attack in Plateau state on Christians and security men".
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need last month, Bishop Martin Igwe Uzoukwu Minna said: "If we have to die for Christ, we will die for Christ, but why should we be forced to make the choice?"
Nigeria's bishops have repeatedly called for Christians not to retaliate - but following the bombing of three churches on 17 June, Muslim shops were targeted by Christians.
Aid to the Church in Need is calling for prayer for Nigeria during this time of crisis. ACN's spokesperson Patricia Hatton said: "Church sources in the country have alerted us to the scale of the problems faced by Christians in the north. Please remember Nigeria and its Christian community in your prayers - and please pray for peace."