Nearly 300 killed in Nigeria religious clashes
by Aminu Abubakar
KANO – Three days of Muslim-Christian clashes in the Nigerian city of Jos have left around 300 people dead, clerics and a paramedic said Tuesday, as troops were deployed to control the unrest.
Authorities placed the central city under a 24-hour curfew amid reports of continuing armed clashes, with terrified residents saying they could hear gunshots and smoke was billowing from parts of the Plateau State capital.
Nigeria's Vice President Goodluck Jonathan sent in troops and ordered security chiefs to "proceed to Jos immediately to assess the situation and advise on further steps," his office said.
All flights to the city were suspended, aviation sources said.
Leaders of both sides and a paramedic issued death tolls that put the number of dead in fighting, which erupted Sunday in a mainly Christian area and spread, at nearly 300 but there was no official confirmation.
The clashes were sparked by a dispute over the building of a mosque, residents said.
"As of yesterday I had 50 dead," the secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Reverend Chung Dabo, told AFP. Another 15 people were killed on Tuesday in the neighboring town of Bukuru, he said.
Muslim leader Balarabe Dawud said 192 bodies were brought to the city's central mosque on Tuesday. On Monday he gave a death toll of 26.
Dawud, head of the mosque, said at least 800 people had been wounded, 90 of whom had been taken to military hospitals with serious injuries.
The mosque had run out of medical supplies, he said. "Even neighborhood private clinics are full with the injured."
Mosque employee Mohammed Shittu told AFP "the mosque is full with the injured and the dead."
Clashes in Bukuru on Tuesday left another five people dead, according to Maryam Mohammed, a paramedic working at the clinic there.
"As I am speaking to you now, fighting is ongoing although soldiers have been deployed. So far we have 50 injured and now five dead," she told AFP.
The Red Cross said more than 100 people were seriously injured and around 3,000 people had been displaced.
Announcing the extension of a weekend curfew, state information commissioner Gregory Yenlong told AFP: "All residents are hereby directed to stay indoors as security agents work towards restoring peace."
Christian resident David Maiyaki said the clashes had gone on despite the curfew.
"We woke up to new fighting this morning. As I am talking to you we are indoors, but there is burning and gunshots all around us," he told AFP by phone.
"From here I can hear gunshots and see burning buildings from a neighborhood in the northern part of the city," said another resident, Ibrahim Mudi. "It seems that Jos north is completely on fire," he said.
Sunday's fighting had been confined to the predominantly Christian Nassarawa Gwon area but spread, the army said.
Jos, situated between the Muslim-dominated north and the Christian south, has in recent years been a hotbed of religious violence in Nigeria, whose 150 million people are divided almost equally between followers of the two faiths.
The vice president slammed the latest outburst of violence and said the government was "determined find a permanent solution to the Jos crisis," his office said.
"This is one crisis too many and the Federal Government finds it most unacceptable, retrogressive and capable of further sundering the bonds of unity in our country," it said in a statement.
Jonathan met with his security chiefs to review the situation, it said, adding: "They are also to put in place comprehensive security strategies to ensure that these constant eruptions do not happen again."
In November 2008, hundreds of people were killed in two days of fighting in Jos triggered by a rumor that a mainly Muslim party had lost a local election to a Christian-dominated party.
At least 800 people were killed in nearby Borno State last July when security forces put down an insurrection by a Muslim fundamentalist sect.
In December, around 70 were killed in clashes between security forces and members of another radical sect in Bauchi State.