At least 750 Christians have been massacred by government forces in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, according to reports from a Belgium-based non-profit.
Europe External Program with Africa (EEPA) reported on January 9 that at the time of the attack up to 1,000 Christians were sheltered in Maryam Tsiyon Church in Aksum, also known as the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.
Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe the church contains the Ark of the Covenant, which was hidden in Aksum by Menelik I, son of King Solomon of Israel.
Despite journalists being barred from the region, numerous reports have surfaced of the massacre, some said to have come from those who fled the town and traveled 200km to the regional capital.
EEPA said many of the locals believe the attack was carried out by federal troops and ethnic Amhara militias, who had targeted the church “with the aim to take the Ark of the Covenant to Addis Ababa,” the capital and largest city of Ethiopia.
According to the Church Times, the former BBC World Service Africa editor and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Martin Plaut, said: “People were worried about the safety of the Ark, and when they heard troops were approaching feared they had come to steal it. All those inside the cathedral were forced out into the square.”
Once in the the square, the attackers began firing upon the congregation, killing about 750 individuals in total.
The Times also said the Church is “not thought to have been damaged, and Plaut said that the Ark is likely to have been hidden before troops arrived, although it has not been possible to confirm this.”
The church belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, an Oriental Orthodox Church that is estimated to have about 36 million members.