Christians in northwest Nigeria are living in terror after receiving letters threatening death unless they close their churches, sources said.

A police spokesman said Zamfara State Police have beefed up security at churches and increased intelligence-gathering in response to the letters that warn Christians will be killed or kidnapped if places of worship are not shut down.

“There’s fear and panic here since the letter was received,” Mary Ibrahim, a resident of Gussau, the Zamfara state capital, told Morning Star News by text message. “Christians no longer find it easy to attend fellowship and Bible Study programs in churches.”

Police said they are trying to determine who sent the letters, while area residents suspect Islamic extremists among Fulani herdsmen or members of Boko Haram.

“A letter was sent to our churches warning that the Christians must close down churches, or we’ll be attacked,” Ayuba Matthew, also of Gussau, told Morning Star News. “We are worried that these Fulani terrorists will carry out their threats, as they’re now in complete control of the rural areas of Zamfara state.”

Many Christians in Zamfara are staying away from church meetings, while others are moving out of the state, residents said.

Mohammed Shehu, spokesman of the Zamfara State Police Command, said in a press statement on Tuesday (Nov. 30) that police had obtained a copy of letter sent to Christians and warned church leaders about its threat.

“The letter warned Christians in Zamfara state to stop worship and to close churches,” Shehu said. “We actually informed the Christian leaders about the threat.”

The police commissioner has invited leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Zamfara state to discuss security measures, he said.

“In that regard, a special squad has been created by the commissioner of police to patrol and protect worshippers, especially on Sundays,” Shehu said. “Additionally, plain-clothes personnel have been deployed for intelligence gathering and to unravel those behind the threat letter.”

Zamfara State Police Commissioner Ayuba Elkanah discussed the threat with journalists at police headquarters in Gussau on Tuesday (Nov. 30).

“We are yet to ascertain where the letter came from, but considering the current situation in the country, we will not just sit down and overlook the content of the letter,” Elkanah said. “We are going to deploy adequate security to all churches and even mosques during prayer sessions and services.”

Security personnel were scheduled to deploy at mosques today (Dec. 3) and will be stationed at church services on Sunday, he said.

CAN General Secretary Joseph Bade Daramola said in a press statement on Wednesday (Dec. 1) that the threatening letters could also paralyze Christian activities in other parts of northwest Nigeria.

“The State Police Command has confirmed that a threat letter was sent to the Christians in the state asking them to stop worship and to close down churches or risk their violent attacks,” Daramola said. “We also learned that it was the police that even informed the Zamfara state chapter of the CAN about the threat.”

Daramola and other CAN officials have asked security agencies in Nigeria to make all efforts to protect churches in Zamfara state against terrorists, he said.

“Now that a Federal High Court has labelled those criminals as terrorists, we call on the police, the military authorities and other security agencies to rise up to the challenge of the terrorists who have turned kidnappings into the biggest business venture in the northwest geopolitical zone,” he said. “We have no problem with Islam or Muslims, but with the fanatics amongst them and their financiers who have declared war against Christianity.”