Nigerian soldiers detained 39 people alleged to have killed six people yesterday in the latest violence between Christians and Muslims, a military official said.
The killings occurred last night when dozens of gunmen suspected to be Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked three villages about 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of the Plateau state capital, Jos, Captain Charles Ekeocha, a spokesman for the military in the area, said today by phone from the city.
Troops responding to calls for help killed two of the attackers and arrested others as they tried to flee, he said. “We handed over 39 people to the police.”
Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and most populous nation of about 140 million people, is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south. More than 14,000 people died in ethnic and religious clashes in the West African nation between 1999 and 2009, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
More than 200 people have died in reprisal attacks in Plateau, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch, since multiple bomb blasts in Jos on Christmas Eve killed 80 people. A radical Islamic sect claimed responsibility for the explosions.
At least four people were killed and several churches and mosques were burned during clashes yesterday between Christians and Muslims in the Tafawa Balewa district of Bauchi state, just north of Plateau state. Both states are in Nigeria’s so-called middle belt where mainly Christian ethnic groups live alongside Muslims.
Bauchi Governor Isa Yuguda ordered a night-time curfew in the affected district “in order to curtail the crisis from escalating to neighboring areas,” he said in a radio broadcast yesterday.
“These waves of senseless killings risk spreading and have taken a terrible toll on the people of Plateau state,” Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement posted on the group’s website.
The authorities need to act urgently to “break this cycle of violence,” she said.