- Category: Latest
- Published on Monday, 09 July 2012 09:32
- Written by Wall Street Journal
JOS, Nigeria— Raids and reprisal attacks over the weekend left 58 people dead in Christian villages near a Nigerian city where authorities have struggled to contain religious violence, officials said Sunday. Assailants launched "sophisticated attacks" on several villages near Jos early Saturday, said Mustapha Salisu, spokesman for a special
taskforce made up of policemen and soldiers deployed in the area to curb years of violence. "They came in hundreds," he said. "Some had [police] uniforms, and some even had bulletproof vests."
He said the special task force fought back for hours and lost two policemen in the battle, which, he said, also claimed the lives of 14 civilians and 21 assailants.
A general view of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, in 2011 (AFP/File, Tony Karumba)
Late Sunday, however, Nigerian Red Cross official Andronicus Adeyemo said aid workers had counted 56 dead and more than 300 people displaced by the attacks. The killing of a federal lawmaker and a state lawmaker brought the deaths to 58 after the they were ambushed Sunday afternoon on their way to a mass burial for the victims, he said.
The state government's press officer, James Mannock, named the slain lawmakers as Sen. Gyang Dantong and Gyang Fulani, majority leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly. A third lawmaker hurt in the ambush was one of seven people injured, Mr. Adeyemo said.
"As a nation, we must rise against those who are determined to return us to a state of nature where life has little or no value," Nigerian Senate President David Mark said.
Authorities declined to comment on whom they suspected for the attacks, but similar raids have been blamed on Muslim herdsmen.
Mark Lipdo, who runs a Christian advocacy group known as the Stefanos Foundation, gave a list of 13 villages about which he said he had received reports of attacks. All were Christian, he said. He blamed Muslim herdsmen of the Fulani ethnic group for the attacks.
However, Nurudeen Abdullahi, Plateau state chairman of Miyetti Allah Fulani Herdsmen Association, denied any involvement by the herdsmen. "This is usual propaganda used on our people, but we are not the ones that attacked the villages in the area," he said. He accused Christian farmers of attacking Muslim settlements and stealing their cows.
Jos and the surrounding Plateau state have been torn apart in recent years by violence pitting their different ethnic groups and major religions, Christianity and Islam, against each other. While the groups are divided by religion, politics and economics often fuel the fighting.
The killings are just the latest to target the Riyom and Barkin Ladi local-government areas, regions of farmlands that supply potatoes, corn, tomatoes and other produce to the nation.
Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people, is largely divided into a mainly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north. Jos is located in the "middle belt," at the meeting point of the two.
Human Rights Watch has said that communal clashes around Jos in 2010 killed at least 1,000 people.
However, the rise of the northern-based Islamist insurgency Boko Haram has added a new dimension to the long-running conflict, fanning religious tensions in this flashpoint area.
Mr. Salisu, the special task-force spokesman, said authorities discovered a bomb and safely detonated it late Friday in a populated neighborhood in the city of Jos.
Officials declined to say whom they suspect, but sect members have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in Jos in the past. All previous Jos attacks have targeted churches, a deliberate move to trigger more religious violence, many have said. All sparked reprisals.