Religious Violence Erupts Again in Northern Nigeria

By Ahmed Saka | January 19, 2010 | 8:11 AM EST
Jos, Nigeria (AP) - Religious violence between Christians and Muslims erupted again Tuesday in Nigeria, as security forces issued a 24-hour curfew for the city of Jos where rioters have burned homes and killed at least 27 people.
Security forces ordered everyone to remain indoors after police and soldiers' efforts to contain the violence with roadblocks and searches apparently failed. An Associated Press reporter could see smoke rising from the north side of Jos and hear the sounds of gunshots echoing along the streets.
Sani Mudi, a spokesman for the local imam, said that the fighting lasted about two hours Tuesday morning. Mudi said he saw police moving about the area with soldiers from where he was hiding inside his home.
"We could hear gunshots all over the area," Mudi said.
Mohammed Larema, a local police spokesman, said security forces had brought the fighting to a halt.
"The situation is under control right now," Larema said, as shouting radio traffic could be heard in the background.
However, the state government called for additional military units to enter the city. A major general for a Nigerian armored division toured part of Jos on Tuesday to see what would be needed.
"The situation is bad and the federal government is yet to deploy the troops requested," said Gregory Yenlong, a state spokesman.
The Minister of Police Affairs, Ibrahim Yakubu Lame, issued a statement Tuesday blaming the violence on "some highly placed individuals in the society who were exploiting the ignorance and poverty of the people to cause mayhem in the name of religion."
While religious violence does happen in Nigeria, it normally has its roots in local issues, rather than influence from international extremist groups.
Jos, the capital of Plateau State, has a history of community violence that has made elections difficult to organize. Rioting in September 2001 killed more than 1,000 people and Muslim-Christian battles killed up to 700 people in 2004.
The city is situated in Nigeria's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups mingle in a band of fertile and hotly contested land separating the Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south.
More than 300 residents died during a similar uprising in 2008.
Rioting began Sunday in the city after Muslim youths set a Catholic church ablaze. Witnesses said rioters armed with knives, homemade firearms and stones attacked passers-by and fought with security forces, leaving bodies in the street and stacked in local mosques.
Calm returned to the city Monday, but police refused to offer any casualty count. Sani Mudi, a spokesman for the local imam, has said 22 people died Sunday and more than 300 people were wounded in the fighting. Five others died Monday from their wounds, Mudi said.
A local Red Cross officials has said 5,000 people have been displaced by the rioting.
Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.
Security forces ordered everyone to remain indoors Tuesday after police and soldiers' efforts to contain Muslim-Christian violence apparently failed.