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ABUJA, Nigeria (ChurchMilitant.com) - Eleven Nigerian men are being heralded as martyrs after Islamic militants took them hostage and killed them.
Video of the men's murder was posted online Dec. 26. Lined up and blindfolded, one man was shot and killed while the other 10 were beheaded.
The 11 men were taken hostage by Islamic terrorists in November, according to the Associated Press.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, called the 11 victims "martyrs" and accusing the killers of being "mad Islamists."
"In Nigeria, the murder of eleven Christians by mad Islamists is a reminder of how many of my African brothers in Christ live faith at the risk of their own lives," he tweeted. "These baptized are martyrs. They have not betrayed the gospel. Let us pray fervently for them."
In Nigeria, the murder of eleven Christians by mad Islamists is a reminder of how many of my African brothers in Christ live faith at the risk of their own lives. These baptized are martyrs. They have not betrayed the Gospel. Let us pray fervently for them. +RS pic.twitter.com/wU74GpJOtb— Cardinal R. Sarah (@Card_R_Sarah) December 28, 2019
Experts suspect Amaq, ISIS' news agency, timed the video's release to coincide with the celebration of Christmas, according to the BBC.
A masked man in the video claimed the killings were retaliation for the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed himself in October during a raid in Syria by U.S. Special Forces.
In a previous video message, the hostages pleaded with the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian government to negotiate for their freedom.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari slammed the terrorists who killed the 11 men, calling them "remorseless, godless, callous gangs of mass-murderers that have given Islam a bad name through their atrocities." He also called them "psychopaths" and "barbaric killers."
I am profoundly saddened and shocked by the death of innocent hostages in the hands of remorseless, godless, callous gangs of mass-murderers that have given Islam a bad name through their atrocities.— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) December 27, 2019
Terrorists claim the Nigerian government failed to negotiate for the release of the 11 hostages, CGTN Africa reported.
Buhari, himself a Muslim, called for peace among different religions.
"These agents of darkness are enemies of our common humanity," he said, "and they don't spare any victim, whether they are Muslims or Christians."
These agents of darkness are enemies of our common humanity and they don't spare any victim, whether they are Muslims or Christians, and therefore, we shouldn't let them divide us and turn us against one another.— Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) December 27, 2019
An ISIS-linked group called Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) is believed to be responsible for the killings. ISWAP has tried for years to set up an independent Islamic territory in northeastern Nigeria.
ISWAP separated from Islamic insurgency Boko Haram in 2016. Since then, ISWAP has captured and killed many Christians and aid workers in Nigeria's Borno State and nearby areas.
Islamic militant groups have ravaged Nigeria in recent years, with countless kidnappings, bombings and shootings.
Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions since 2009. In 2015, Boko Haram was listed as the deadliest terror group in the world, surpassing even ISIS at the time.
The diocese of Maiduguri reported in 2015 that more than 5,000 Catholics in the diocese were killed by Boko Haram, and about 100,000 of the faithful were displaced. It also reported more than 350 diocesan churches were attacked.
Violence by Fulani herdsmen, members of a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Christian farmers in rural Nigeria since early 2018.
In November 2017, the Nigerian government banned the semi-nomadic herdsmen from having their livestock graze on other people's property. The law was aimed at avoiding clashes between the Muslim herdsmen and Christian villagers, but the policy seemingly fueled an explosion of violence.
In one instance in June 2018, a confrontation took place between Christian farmers and Fulani herdsmen, with Fulani gunmen retaliating by killing about 120 people in Plateau State in central Nigeria.
Amid the waves of Islamic violence, some Nigerians have accused President Buhari of being negligent in the fight against terrorism.