Up to 1,000 people—including priests and other church leaders—have been killed in a series of attacks in Ethiopia culminating in a massacre at a church where the Ark of the Covenant is believed to be kept.
Following reports that 750 people were killed in a raid on the Orthodox Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum, thought to contain the Ark of the Covenant, an anonymous source from inside the country spoke to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The source told ACN the attack was the latest in a long line of fatal assaults against innocent people, as part of the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region of the country.
He said: “750 were killed in Aksum, 154 people were killed in December in Maryam Dengelat. Also in my home area, 10 people were killed on Christmas Day from one family in one village.”
“More than 32 people were killed by Eritrean troops in Irob, 56 in Zalambassa, 11 in Sebeya. I also heard about 32 people, including priests, who were killed in a church in Gietelo, Gulemakada. In addition to that, in another area, I heard 20 were killed.”
Reports of the Aksum massacre first emerged earlier this month, when the European External Program with Africa (EEPA), a Belgium-based nonprofit organization, released a situational report, saying the people hiding in the church were brought out and shot in the square.
The ACN source said: “I heard there were 1,000 people in the church. It might be that more were injured and died later. 750 were killed for sure.” He added: “In Aksum, there is the Ark of the Covenant. Maybe the people were there protecting the Ark. They were taken outside and shot.”
The ACN source stressed an ongoing political conflict had led to the deaths of so many Christians and Muslims but added that the violence was not motivated by religion. He went on to say: “Inside Ethiopia there is a political conflict to do with the election. The government expired in September and they were supposed to have elections in May. Coronavirus happened and the election was postponed in August. This is a political problem and they are targeting the people of the Tigray region. This is a terrible situation.”
Last November, fighting broke out in Tigray after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent in federal troops, supported by militia and army from Amhara, as well as troops from Eritrea, to fight the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which he accused of holding illegitimate elections.
The source said: “Frankly, the problem is that Eritrean troops have been involved from the beginning. The [Ethiopian] government has denied this but those who are doing the killing are Eritrean troops in eastern and north-western Tigray.”