At least 500 Christians in Ethiopia have been murdered in the last two months by Islamists, according to a report by the Barnabas Fund.
The non-profit ministry, which provides support to the persecuted church worldwide, says it has confirmed attacks in at least 17 cities across the country.
"The attackers are from the Oromo ethnic group, which has traditionally been Muslim, and are members of Qeerroo (meaning, 'bachelors'), an Oromo male youth movement," says the Barnabas Fund. "In door-to-door attacks on Christian households the Qeerroo extremists arrived in cars and, armed with guns, machetes, swords, and spears, sought out and slaughtered Christians. Children were forced to witness their parents being brutally murdered with machetes."
Violence in Oromo has been ongoing since June 30, when popular Oromo singer and celebrity Hachallu Hundessa was shot dead in the capital. His murder revived long-standing tensions between Amhara and Oromo elites – the two largest people groups in the country. In the days following his death, 239 people were killed and more than 7,000 arrested during riots.
The ethnic tensions, combined with a growing dissatisfaction with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, have also allowed religious violence to escalate.
The Barnabas Fund reports that the Islamist attackers were "helped by local authorities, often run by Muslims in the Oromia region, to find individuals, particularly those actively involved in supporting the Church." Survivors detailed the horrors of watching attackers "dancing and singing" while carrying the body parts of victims.
"An Oromo Christian was beheaded for refusing to deny his faith by tearing off the thread around his neck (worn by many Ethiopian Christians as a sign of their baptism)," the report continues. "His widow told Barnabas, 'The attackers said that it is only he/she who prostrates with us before Allah for prayer who is considered an Oromo.' Local witnesses said that police stood by and watched as the murders unfolded. However, contacts reported that, in Bale Agarfa, some Christians were saved by the intervention of courageous local Muslims who risked their own lives to protect them."
The Barnabas Fund says thousands of Christians have fled and billions of dollars in property damage has been caused.
The ministry also urges people to contact the Ethiopian embassy in their country "to call for immediate action to bring to a halt the atrocities continuing in the Oromia regional state at this time."