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Jon Gambrell, Associated Press
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Nigeria's violence puts it atop list of nations deadly for Christians, group says

You're more likely to be killed in Nigeria just for being a Christian than anywhere else on Earth, a new report from a group dedicated to speaking for victims said Tuesday. Syria, Egypt and the Central African Republic are also high on the list of nations that are the most deadly for Christians, with Mexico rounding out the top five.

Between Nov. 1, 2012, and March 31, 2014, an average of 322 Christians were killed for their faith each month, according to the World Watch List Research team of Open Doors International.

"Of 5,479 Christians killed for their faith around the world, Nigeria, Syria and CAR make up 85 percent of the total," the group wrote in a statement.

Frans Veerman, director of World Watch Research, said the list shows violent persecution of believers is widespread and the sources of the violence are limited.

"Islamic extremism, tribal antagonism and organized corruption are the main persecution engines fueling violence, with Islamic extremism being the major engine in seven of the top 10 countries," he said.

"The alarming increase of violence against Christians in Nigeria over the past months highlights the lack of religious freedom they have and the daily dangers they face from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and other violent Islamic organizations," said Dr. David Curry, Open Doors USA president and CEO, in the statement. "Going to school, attending church or identifying yourself as a Christian is a very brave decision in Nigeria."

Known most recently for the April abduction of approximately 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria, Boko Haram is also reputed for its violent attacks on Christian institutions, believing Western culture and education is "haram," or unsuitable, for Muslims.

On Sunday, at least 14 people were killed by a suspected Boko Haram bomb attack in northeastern Nigeria, the BBC reported. The next day, another remote northeastern Nigerian village was attacked by gunmen who killed nine at a church, South African news site Independent Online said.

Why are two Latin American countries on the violence list? Veerman explained, "Mexico ranks No. 5 ... and Colombia (is) No. 7. Latin America has always known high levels of corruption and state and insurgent violence. Christians are perpetually caught in the crossfire between tribes, guerrillas who are drug runners, landlords who are violent and soldiers running their own rackets."

The storming of a Roman Catholic church in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, by Muslim rebels on May 28 sparked fears of an increase in religious violence between Muslims and Christians there, according to The Washington Times.

"The latest conflict, pitting the nation’s minority Muslims against its majority Christians, has become increasingly sectarian since members of the Seleka rebel coalition looted, raped and killed Christians upon seizing control of Bangui last year," the Times reported. "Muslim civilians then became targets of attacks by armed Christians, who wrested control of the capital from the Seleka coalition."

The World Watch Research unit also published, in January, a list of the nations that are generally the most dangerous for Christians, and North Korea headed that roster. Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq appear on both lists.

The two reports from Open Doors International are among several chronicles of violence against people of faith.

In January, the Pew Research Center reported one-third of the world's nations had a "high" level of religious violence in 2012, including, for the first time, the People's Republic of China. "Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas," Pew said.

And, writing in The Hill newspaper, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chairman Robert P. George noted, "Religious freedom can be a powerful and effective means of countering violent religious extremism."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com Twitter: @Mark_Kellner