A prominent church elder has been murdered and three other Christians have been kidnapped following an attack by Islamists against a small Nigerian village.

On Feb. 16, Islamists attacked the village of Kadabuki Dan-Marabu in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria. The local church’s 65-year-old elder Mati Sani was murdered. Three other Christians were kidnapped and have yet to be located.

Pastor Ali Mani, the son of Mati Sani, told local media that his father was an important elder in the regional Evangelical movement.

“He served as a lay leader in the church for over 35 years at different capacities,” Pastor Mati said.

Attacks on Christians have escalated in Nigeria in the past year, with clergymen and church leaders often being the target of Islamist attacks due to their prominence.

Less than a month earlier, a Nigerian Catholic priest was murdered and mutilated after being kidnapped. Islamists are also threatening to murder another kidnapped clergyman Pastor Bulus Yikura as early as Wednesday.

The rapid increase in Islamist violence has been attributed to militias formed by Nigeria’s Fulani ethnicity. Fulani groups have been inspired by other larger Islamist groups.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” a recent report by the British parliament stated.

Last year, 3,530 Nigerian Christians were killed on account of their faith, the highest number of any country. In November, two Western faith leaders warned the increased attacks on Christians in Nigeria and other countries appear similar to the beginning phases of previous genocides.

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