July 8, 2012 ·18 Comments
Violence spread in Nigeria’s deeply divided nation. Channels Television photo.
ABUJA — Raids and reprisal attacks have left 37 people dead in Christian villages near a Nigerian city where authorities have struggled to contain religious violence, authorities said Sunday.
Mustapha Salisu, spokesman for a special taskforce made up of policemen and soldiers deployed in the area to curb years of violence, said assailants launched “sophisticated attacks” on several villages near Jos early Saturday.
“They came in hundreds,” said Salisu, “Some had (police) uniforms and some even had bulletproof vests.”
He said the special taskforce fought back for hours and lost two policemen in the battle.
He said 14 civilians were killed in the raids and that the taskforce killed 21 assailants.
“More than 100 people have been displaced,” said Andronicus Adeyemo, an official with the Nigerian Red Cross.
Authorities declined to comment on who they suspect, but similar raids have been blamed on Muslim herdsmen in the past.
Mark Lipdo, who runs a Christian advocacy group known as the Stefanos Foundation, gave a list of the 13 villages where he got reports of attacks. He said they were all Christian.
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 a usual propaganda used on our people but we are not the ones that attacked the villages in the area,” he said.
Abdullahi accused Christian farmers of attacking Muslim settlements and stealing their cows.
Jos and surrounding Plateau state have been torn apart in recent years by violence pitting its different ethnic groups and major religions — Christianity and Islam — against each other. While divided by religion, politics and economics often fuel the fighting.
These are just the latest killings to target the Riyom and Barkin Ladi local government areas, regions of farmlands that supply produces like potatoes, corn and tomatoes to the rest of 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 these two regions.
Human Rights Watch says at least 1,000 people were killed in communal clashes around Jos in 2010.
However, the rise of a northern-based Islamist insurgency known as Boko Haram has added a new dimension to the long-running conflict, fanning religious tensions in this flashpoint area.
Salisu said authorities discovered a bomb and safely detonated it late Friday in a populated neighborhood in the city of Jos.
They declined to say who 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. They all sparked reprisals.
Associated Press writer Yinka Ibukun contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.
The Associated Press
July 8, 2012Follow @somalilandpress
By Hassan Ali