MALUMFASHI, Nigeria (ChurchMilitant.com) - Muslim terrorists have returned a kidnapped priest in northern Nigeria after killing another.
75-year-old Fr. Joseph Keke was safely returned on Thursday to Malumfashi Village in Katsina State after remaining in Islamic custody for over a week.
The Sokoto diocese's communications director, Fr. Chris Omotosho, broke the news: "Dear Frs, Srs & the entire People of God, this is to officially announce that *Very Rev. Fr. Joe Keke* has been received from the hands of his kidnappers. He is currently receiving medical. We thank God for your prayers."
An inside source told Church Militant Keke is the oldest priest in Sokoto's diocese, noting he was sick and needed medical attention shortly before the kidnapping. There has been no word on whether or not the abductor's ransom request was paid to ensure his safe return.
Now-slain Fr. Alphonsus Bello of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, where Fr. Keke was a resident priest, was also kidnapped. His body was found May 28, lying on some farmland. He was only 33 years old and was buried on June 1 in Kaduna State.
The Vatican media reported the kidnappers were so-called "bandits." But a diocesan source claimed there's more to it. He told Church Militant the kidnappers were members of the Fulani militia.
Fulanis are an ethnic group of Muslim herdsmen looking to conquer land for farming. Many of them murder, rape and pillage Christian villages across Northern Nigeria in the name of Islamic jihad (holy war) against Christianity.
When asked if the Fulanis were friendly to ISIS affiliate Boko Haram, the source said, "Yes!" The source went on to say he "knows this is an Islamic jihad against Christianity," stating he is certain the motivation behind the kidnappings was religious.
These terrorists are also suspected in a raid against Kadaje community in the Kaduna diocese — killing eight people and abducting 11 more including another diocesan priest.
Fulani militants are responsible for even more Christian deaths in Nigeria than Boko Haram, claiming up to 1,700 lives in 2018 alone. The region has been under attack by Muslim groups since 2009.
The West African nation has a sizable Catholic minority, making up 10.5% of the total population, while another 35% are non-Catholic Christians. Since the 2015 election of the Muslim president Muhammadu Buhari, however, forced Islamization in the country has ramped up.
The country is currently listed in the top 10 of the 2021 World Watch List due to constant violence coming from Islamic militants — common in the nation's north and middle belt. The list tracks the top 50 countries where it's "most difficult to follow Jesus."
The report labels Nigeria's persecution level against Christians "extreme" — claiming the government has been either "unable or unwilling" to help fight these terror groups. The Sokoto diocese source made a similar allegation, highlighting the government is refusing to do anything about the ongoing Muslim violence.
And the anti-Catholic persecution is not expected to end, especially with the Vatican misreporting the motives of the attackers. Until there is honesty about the jihad taking place, both priests and Catholic laypeople remain both afraid and alone in their fight against Islam.