Ethnic Violence in Nigeria Has Killed 500, Officials Say

DAKAR, Senegal — Officials and human rights groups in Nigeria sharply increased the count of the dead after a weekend of savage ethnic violence, saying Monday 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.

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

People watched as rescue workers buried a victim in the Dogo Nahawa village outside the city of Jos in central Nigeria on Monday.

The New York Times

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The dead were Christians and members of an ethnic group that has been feuding with the Hausa Fulani, Muslim herders who 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. Some homes were set on fire.

The latest attacks were “a sort of vengeance from the Hausa Fulani,” said the Rev. 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 Mr. Joel, “began to massacre as early as 4 a.m. They began to slaughter the people like animals.”

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

The mood in Jos was tense Monday, as troops were deployed in the streets, shops closed early, and residents remained indoor. A few miles south of the city nearly 400 of the victims were buried in a mass grave in Dogon Na Hauwa, the village that was the site of the worst violence. Some of the bodies had been mutilated.

There, women cried unconsolably amid crowds of mourners, and the thick smell of burnt and decomposing flesh hung in the air. Officials meanwhile combed a large area around the village, continuing to find bodies of victims during the day.

Shehu Sani of the Nigerian Civil Rights Congress said in a telephone interview on Monday that members of his organization had counted 492 bodies, mainly in Dogon Na Hauwa. He said that security forces had not been much in evidence in the “vulnerable areas” south of Jos. Mr. Sani said that the attackers were motivated at least in part by a large-scale theft of cattle by members of the same Christian ethnic group as the victims.

“We were at the scene of the violence,” Mr. Sani said, suggesting that the local government figure of 500 was not an exaggeration. “We have counted as many bodies as that,” he said. “There are not enough functional mortuaries to take them. It’s possibly even more than that because many were buried without documentation.”

Mr. Sani said the latest violence strongly resembled the killings in January. One predominantly Muslim village of several hundred, Kuru Karama, was virtually wiped out, and bodies were thrown into pits and latrines.

Mr. Sani said he was not optimistic about an early end to the deadly cycle of violence. “Most likely there will be continuous acts of reprisal,” he said.

Jude Owuamanam contributed reporting from Dogon Na Hauwa and Jos, Nigeria.

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