Clashes Erupt in Nigeria Killing Hundreds

The death toll from weekend violence in central Nigeria climbed to more than 200 Monday after members of a machete-wielding Muslim group attacked a mostly Christian town south of the city of Jos, officials have said.

The townsfolk are predominantly Berom, an ethnic group that mostly practices Christianity, said Manase Pampe, spokesman for the Red Cross Plateau state office. Reports of the attack described the assailants as members of the Muslim Hausa-Fulani ethnic group, Pampe and government spokesman Gregory Yenlong said.

The attackers stormed the town at 3 a.m. Sunday (9 p.m. Saturday ET) and remained there for 2.5 hours, Pampe said. Buildings were set afire, and people were attacked with machetes, Yenlong said. Women and children were killed in their homes and men who tried to flee were ensnared in fishnets and animal traps, and then massacred.

“Soldiers are patrolling and everywhere remains calm… We are estimating 500 people killed but I think it should be a little bit above that,” Yenlong said.

More than 500 were dead and 32 injured, according to Choji Gyang, a religious affairs adviser to the head of Plateau state, who said bodies were still being recovered. Sani Shehu, president of the nongovernmental agency Civil Rights Congress, put the number of dead at about 485 people. “We were at the scene of the violence,” Mr. Sani said, suggesting that the local government figure of 500 was not an exaggeration. “We have counted as many bodies as that,” he said. “There are not enough functional mortuaries to take them. It’s possibly even more than that because many were buried without documentation.” (New York Times)

Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan put security on high alert Sunday and began operations to capture the “roving bands of killers” that attacked Dogo Nahauwa, a town just south of Jos.

The latest attacks were “a sort of vengeance from the Hausa Fulani,” said the Rev. Emmanuel Joel, of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Jos. (New York Times)

The violence resembled previous outbreaks of ethno-religious clashes in the West African nation. But John Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, told Vatican Radio the most recent outbreak is the result of a dispute over access to natural resources, not religion. “The point that needs to be made is that people are not killing one another because of religion,” Onaiyekan said. Instead, he called it a “classical” economic conflict between farmers and less sedentary groups. (CNN)

The Plateau attack prompted Jonathan to place the area and neighboring states on “red alert,” the vice president’s office said in a news release. He directed security forces to “undertake strategic initiatives to confront and defeat these roving bands of killers,” the office said. (CNN)

Jonathan, who became acting head of the state in February while President Umaru Yar’Adua recovers from illness, called for calm. “He calls on all Nigerians to remain peaceful and law abiding since violence only begets further violence,” the release said. “He also sympathizes with those who have lost relatives and friends in these attacks, asking the Almighty to grant them fortitude to bear the loss.” (CNN)

Onaiyekan said the government had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew but noted it’s difficult for authorities to impose curfews outside the cities. The recent casualties don’t “say much about the ability of government to defend its citizens,” he said. (CNN)

Hundreds fled the town as the violence raged Sunday. The Red Cross was caring for about 600 people at its camp in Boto in Bauchi state, said Alhaji Abubakar, the group’s spokesman in the state. Bauchi is just north of Plateau state.

Forty-eight people were treated at hospitals, national Red Cross spokesman Umar Maigari said. Red Cross officials counted 30 bodies in one community but were unable to continue their investigation, he said. Residents wanted to direct the attention to burying the dead, he said.

Nigeria – with more than 150 million people – is the most populous country in Africa and almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. It has the sixth-largest Islamic population in the world – 78 million-plus Muslims, according to a study last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While some outbursts of violence are between Christians and Muslims, some disputes are also ethnic-based. The country is home to 250 to 400 ethnic groups, making it one of the most diverse African nations, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre.

Thousands were displaced in January when violence flared up in Jos, said Shehu of the Civil Rights Congress. A local activist said 69 people were killed and about 600 injured. Also in January, at least 150 Muslims were killed during an attack in Kuru Karama south of Jos, Human Rights Watch reported. Community leaders from Jos and journalists told Human Rights Watch they saw dozens of bodies lodged in wells or sewage pits. Most of the town’s homes were burned, the group said.

After the January attacks, “the military watched over the city, and neglected the villages,” Mr. Joel said. The attackers “began to massacre as early as 4 a.m. They began to slaughter people like animals.” (New York Times)

The police said Monday that they had made 95 arrests, which includes a number of Hausa Fulani. The clothes of many of the suspects were bloodstained, said Mohammed Larema, a police spokesman in Plateau State.

The mood in Jos was tense Monday, as troops were deployed in the streets, shops closed early, and residents remained inside. A few miles south of the city nearly 400 of the victims were buried in a mass grave in Dogon Na Hauwa, the village that was the site of the worst violence. Some of the bodies had been mutilated.

There, women cried inconsolably amid crowds of mourners, and the thick smell of burnt and decomposing flesh hung in the air. Officials meanwhile combed a large area around the village, continuing to find bodies of victims during the day.

Mr. Sani said he was not optimistic about an early end to the deadly cycle of violence. “Most likely there will be continual acts of reprisal,” he said. (New York Times)

Mark Lipdo, from the Christian charity Stefanos Foundation, said Zot village had been almost wiped out. He said: “We saw mainly those who were helpless, like small children and then the older men, who cannot run, these were the ones that were slaughtered.” (BBC)

A resident of Dogo-Nahawa said that the attackers had fired guns as they entered the village before dawn on Sunday in defiance of a curfew. “The shooting was just meant to bring people from their houses and then when people came out they started cutting them with machetes,” Peter Jang told Reuters news agency. (BBC)

Some witnesses said villagers were caught in fishing nets and animal traps as they tried to escape and then were hacked to death. Mud huts were also set on fire.

Analysts say the latest attack seems to be in reprisal for clashes in January, which claimed the lives of at least 200 people and displaced thousands of others.

Hundreds of people have fled from Jos in the aftermath of the fighting, the International Committee of the Red Cross says.

President Goodluck Jonathan said additional security forces would be stationed along the central Nigerian state’s borders to keep outsiders from bringing more fighters and weapons to the region. “[We will] undertake strategic initiatives to confront and defeat these roving bands of killers,” he said. “While it is too early to state categorically what is responsible for this renewed wave of violence, we want to inform Nigerians that the security services are on top of the situation.” (CBC)

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