Nigerians trade blame over violence

Christians and Muslims in Jos blame each other for unrest that has killed hundreds.

    Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria are accusing each other of starting the recent clashes in which hundreds of people were killed in and around the city of Jos in Plateau state.

    Nigerian police said on Tuesday that at least 326 people have died in the violence in Plateau.

    However, estimates from medical and aid workers and religious and community leaders put the toll at more than 550.

    Both Christians and Muslims seem to agree that a dispute over a house in a mainly Christian district of Jos sparked the unrest. The house was destroyed in a previous spate of religious violence in 2008 and its Muslim owner started to rebuild it on January 17.

    What the area's majority Christian Biroms and the minority Muslim Hausas strongly disagree on is over who is to blame for the killings.

    Attacked with machetes

    A group of Muslims gathering to bury some of the victims told Al Jazeera that the dead were trying to escape from Christian youths last Tuesday when they were attacked with machetes.

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    Musa Ayiga, a local resident, said a group of Christian youths came to say that the rebuilding of the house should not continue. He said a Muslim boy was then beaten up by the youths.

    "When he came to his [Muslim] people and the people saw the blood on him, they were angry," he said.

    The Christians, on the other hand, said fighting started after Muslims attacked a Christian woman.

    There have also been claims by both Muslims and Christians that security personnel sympathetic to one side or the other have been involved in the killings.

    Shettima Mustafa, Nigeria's interior minister, said reports of military involvement in the attacks were "absolutely false".
     
    "Under this kind of situation naturally people will start peddling rumours that they think are in their favour," he told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.

    "But the truth of the matter is that the Nigerian military is trained in such a way that they are superior to these ethnic, religious and negative sentiments.
     
    "When they have their orders it doesn't matter whether the man is Muslim, Christian or a non-believer - they will obey the order given to them by a superior officer."

    Mustafa was non-committal on whether the government intended to investigate the accusation, saying instead: "The feeling of government is [that] there are too many inquiries into these kinds of situations. The government would rather implement what is available than to start all over with an inquiry."

    More than 300 people have been arrested over the clashes.

    Many of the suspects in the attacks have been sent to Abuja, Nigeria's federal capital, to be interviewed, according to police and security sources.

    Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's vice-president, was due to visit Jos on Tuesday. He has pledged that the organisers of the violence would be brought to justice "no matter how highly placed".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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