Muslim militants gun down nine Christian villagers in Philippine Christmas Eve attack

Nine Christians in the Philippines were cruelly killed as around 200 Islamic militants conducted at least eight raids in Christian villages in the Muslim-dominated southern island of Mindanao, on 24 December.

“They abducted farmers and then killed them,” said Colonel Ricky Bunayog of the local Philippines army unit. “When we attempted to recover their bodies, they fired on us.”

According to the military, it was the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) guerrilla group that was behind the raids, a group that in 2014 declared its allegiance to Islamic State, which is persecuting Christians across the Middle East.

The BIFF broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s main Islamist guerrilla group, in 2008 after the MILF entered peace talks with the government. The BIFF has reiterated its refusal to enter into talks with the government and its intention to continue to fight for the creation of an Islamic state on Mindanao island.

The government of this largely Christian country is currently considering a bill that sets out the terms for the creation of a semi-independent Islamic sub-state on part of the large southern island of Mindanao and several smaller islands nearby. However, despite the fact that many people on Mindanao are Muslims and the various Moro rebel groups (Moro is a local word for Muslim) have fought a decades-long insurgency for an independent Islamic state, large numbers of people within the proposed Bangsamoro area are non-Muslims.

When Christians in Mindanao opposed a previous agreement in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in their favour. The MILF responded with violence, killing around 400 Christians and displacing some 750,000.

Since the 2015 Christmas Eve attacks took place, many Christian residents in Mindanao are afraid to sleep in their homes. “People on the outskirts are scared and at night, they move to the centre of the town,” said Colonel Bunayog. Military spokeswoman Captain Joan Pentinglay said that villagers in one area hid in a church after they heard about the attacks.

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