Survivors of a massacre in Nigeria which killed at least 32 people on Pentecost Sunday say a helicopter was used in the attack.
An unknown number of people are still missing following the attack on four villages and a church in southern Kaduna state on 5th June by armed assailants on motorcycles who were reportedly assisted by a helicopter.
The charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says local sources state that attackers of Fulani ethnicity descended on the villages in the Kajuru Local Government Area on around 150 motorcycles, each carrying three people.
Wearing turbans and armed with AK-47s, the attackers destroyed a large number of homes and the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Church in Maikori.
It’s leader Rev Denis Sani said:“My church, First ECWA in Maikori, was burnt to ashes. My house and everything I ever worked for went with the flames.
“I only came out with what I am wearing. As of now, I cannot tell you exactly how many people were killed from that attack, because we are still picking bodies in the bushes. But 32 persons have been buried. Other villages that were attacked earlier that day by the same killers are Sabon Gida, Unguwan Sarki and Dogon Noma. The helicopter did not hide its intention that it came to kill us and to help the armed Fulani to achieve what they wanted to do.”
Rev Sani’s version of events was confirmed by other survivors, including the youth leader of Maikori village, who insisted: “the bullets were coming from the bottom of the helicopter straight at us. At first I thought it was a mistake, but it circled back, saw the position of the enemy, left them alone and started raining bullets at us and into our village.”
Survivors say that the terrorists entered their village, as the helicopter reportedly provided cover, and spent three hours destroying homes and the church, leaving just a few buildings intact.
The Kaduna state government has dismissed reports of a helicopter being involved in the attack, claiming that “an Air Force helicopter dispatched to the area, had earlier scanned the first two locations and sighted burnt houses and properties on fire……. and intercepted the bandits at the last location and engaged them as they retreated before the arrival of ground troops.”
CSW says that the recent attacks are the first in which a helicopter is alleged to have opened fire on victim communities on behalf of militia. There have also been unverified but recurring accounts from survivors of attacks in various remote locations in southern Kaduna state of a helicopter arriving prior to an attack that was suspected either to be conducting surveillance for or bringing supplies to attackers.
However, CSW’s sources noted that when visiting people displaced by militia violence from previous attacks in Kajuri LGA, children began shaking and would run away at the sound of a passing helicopter, saying the sound often preceded an attack.
CSW founder president Mervyn Thomas said: “Once again we extend our deepest condolences to all who lost loved ones in these appalling attacks in Kaduna state…
“Allegations of terrorists being assisted in their attacks by a helicopter… ought to be a matter of the utmost concern, as they are a worrying indication either of possible terrorist infiltration into the armed forces, or of an alarming growth in the sophistication with which they are now able to operate. We call on federal and state authorities to significantly increase protections for vulnerable communities.”