At least 19 Nigerian Muslims were killed by a Christian mob at the entrance to the southeastern city of Onitsha yesterday, according to an AFP correspondent who saw the bodies.
The corpses were scattered by the side of the main road into Onitsha across the Niger river bridge, where a contingent of soldiers had set up a roadblock to hold back a gang of hundreds of Christian youths wielding clubs and machetes.
The bodies, apparently all ethnic Hausa, had been beaten, slashed and in some cases burnt.
"There are thousands of boys with cutlasses and sticks on the rampage. I've counted at least 20 bodies here by the Onitsha bridge. They are Hausas. Some of them are burnt and some have their stomachs cut open," a Reuters photographer said.
A police official earlier said that five more Hausas had been killed in the neighboring city of Asaba, where thousands of Muslims had fled after the Onitsha riots.
The Hausa are the main ethnic group in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria, while Onitsha is located in the ethnic Ibo heartland, a mainly Christian region.
Frank Nweke, a magazine editor, who ran the gauntlet of the mob to escape Onitsha and made it to the bridge, told reporters that he had seen 15 more corpses lying in the streets of the city.
Some had been beheaded, others had had their genitals removed.
"I saw one boy holding a severed head with blood dripping from it," he said.
Army officers could not confirm a total death toll but said that in the city, where control has not been restored, thousands of Muslims had taken shelter in barracks and police stations.
A doctor at the Onitsha general hospital said more than 50 newly injured people had been brought in yesterday.
Nigerian Red Cross said on Tuesday that in the mainly Muslim northern city of Bauchi, protests by Muslims targeting Christians claimed the lives of 18 people. In Onitsha, Christian mobs burned two mosques and beat to death at least six Muslims, residents and witnesses said.
The continued mayhem brought to at least 66 the total number of people killed in sectarian fighting in Nigeria since Saturday, when protests over controversial cartoons published in Europe of the Prophet Mohammed turned violent for the first time in the northern Muslim city of Maiduguri, police said.
Similar protests broke out in Bauchi city soon afterward, leaving seven dead on Monday and another 18 dead on Tuesday, Adamu Abubakar, secretary of the Red Cross in Bauchi, told reporters.
Mobs ran through Bauchi's streets wielding machetes and sticks, Abubakar said.
"I am just coming back from Gombe Road, where we carried two dead bodies, both badly mutilated, and just at Boni Haruna Street near the Specialist Hospital, two of my staff were attacked and are seriously wounded," Abubakar said. "So, the situation is still delicate."
Among the dead there were a man, his wife and their daughter. Six bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
The violence in Onitsha appeared to be a reprisal for anti-Christian attacks on Saturday in Maiduguri, where police said 30 churches were burned down and 18 people, mostly Christians, were killed. The Christian Association of Nigeria put the death toll in Maiduguri higher, at 50 dead.
"The mosque at the main market has been burnt and I've counted at least six dead bodies on the streets," Izzy Uzor, an Onitsha resident and businessman, told reporters by telephone on Tuesday. "The whole town is in a frenzy."