Renewed attacks on churches in central Nigeria have killed eight pastors and hundreds of Christians and destroyed scores of church buildings in recent months. Church leaders report that most incidents have occurred in Kaduna, Plateau, Bauchi, Jigawa, and Nassarawa states.

According to the Plateau State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the slain ministers served Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Christ Church of Nigeria, Evangelical Reformed, and Evangelical Church of West Africa congregations. They are the latest victims in violence that has killed more than 10,000 people since the 1999 restoration of democracy to the oil-rich country of 130 million.

On April 3 nine churches and five Christian-owned buildings were burned in Makarfi. The state's CAN vice chairman, Sam Kujiyat, charged that "terrorists, hiding under religion, have invaded Kaduna state." Muslims deny this charge.

Some unconfirmed reports suggested that the trouble began when a young Christian destroyed a copy of the Qur'an and spoke out against Islam. But Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Kaduna's Anglican archbishop and national president of the Christian Council of Nigeria, said the youth did not have a Qur'an and does not speak the local Hausa language.

The archbishop acknowledged that some Christians are striking back at Muslims, fighting for power and authority, but he said "we have no mandate in the Scriptures."

"People in the West are trying to give a religious interpretation to a significant number of our crises, especially in the middle part of the country, the Middle Belt," Idowu-Fearon said. Depending on circumstances, individual incidents can have "religious, economic, and ethnic dimensions. It is very complex."

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