500 feared dead in Nigeria ethnic violence

New York Times / March 9, 2010

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DAKAR, Senegal - Officials and human rights groups in Nigeria sharply increased the count of the dead after a weekend of savage ethnic violence, saying yesterday that as many as 500 people, many of them women and children, may have been killed near the central city of Jos, long a flashpoint for tensions between Christians and Muslims.

The dead were Christians and members of an ethnic group that has been feuding with the Hausa Fulani, Muslim herders whom witnesses and police officials identified as the attackers.

Officials said the attack was a reprisal for violence in January, when dozens of Muslims were slaughtered in and around Jos, including more than 150 in a single village.

Early Sunday, the attackers set upon the villagers with machetes, killing women and children in their homes and ensnaring the men who tried to flee in fishnets and animal traps, then massacring them, according to a Nigerian rights group whose investigators went to the area.

The latest attacks were “a sort of vengeance from the Hausa Fulani,’’ said the Reverend Emmanuel Joel, of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Jos.

After the January attacks, “the military watched over the city, and neglected the villages,’’ he said. The attackers, said Joel, “began to massacre as early as 4 a.m. They began to slaughter the people like animals.’’

The police said yesterday that they had made 95 arrests, including a number of Hausa Fulani. The clothes of many of the suspects were bloodstained, said Mohammed Larema, a police spokesman in Plateau State.

The mood in Jos was tense as troops were deployed in the streets, shops closed early, and residents remained indoors.