A US-based rights group has urged Nigeria's vice-president to order an immediate criminal investigation into "a massacre of at least 150 Muslim residents" of a town in central Nigeria.

In a statement, Corinne Dufka, Human Rights Watch's (HRW) senior West Africa researcher, said the killings in Kuru Karama, 30km south of the city of Jos, required "the authorities to act now".

"Something extremely serious has happened in the town ... act now both to bring those behind these heinous crimes to justice and to protect both the survivors and those at risk of renewed violence," Dufka said.

"Vice-president [Goodluck] Jonathan's statement that the perpetrators will be prosecuted is a start. But now he needs to make sure the police conduct an immediate and impartial investigation."

Al Jazeera footage

Witnesses interviewed by Al Jazeera on Saturday said groups of armed men attacked the largely Muslim population of Kuru Karama in the morning of January 19 after surrounding the town, killing many as they tried to flee and burning many others alive.

IN VIDEO

Residents tell Al Jazeera what happened
Several villagers told our correspondent, Andrew Simmons, that they believed members of the armed groups to be Christians and showed him charred corpses, including those of young children and babies, in addition to dozens of bodies stuffed down wells.

The three main mosques of the town were burned and destroyed as well, according to HRW.

And one witness told HRW that at least one police officer participated in the attack, while another said the police abandoned their post shortly before the violence began, adding that the killings took place throughout the day, without police intervention to stop the violence, despite repeated calls to the police.

VP's pledge

Greg Anyating, the Plateau State police commissioner, told HRW that the reported death toll in Plateau State was false, and the police would issue "correct figures" on the number of dead in a few days, following an inquiry.

In a televised address to the nation on January 21, Vice-President Jonathan, currently the acting president, pledged that the perpetrators of the violence in Plateau State and their sponsors would not evade justice.

"The federal government is determined to secure convictions of the perpetrators of this crime, no matter how highly placed," he said.

Source: Al Jazeera