Residents delivered more bodies to the main mosque in the central Nigerian city of Jos yesterday, bringing the death toll from two days of clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs to around 400 people.
Troop reinforcements on foot and in armored personnel carriers appeared to have quelled the violence. New military units moving into Jos helped strengthen roadblocks and there were no reports of fresh violence early yesterday. Streets were mostly empty after a disputed local election spurred mob violence that killed hundreds.
Sporadic bursts of gunfire rattled the city as the security forces tried to prevent more clashes between Muslim and Christian gangs in which hundreds of people have been killed.
Rival ethnic and religious mobs burned homes, shops, mosques and churches in fighting triggered by a disputed local election in a city at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and Christian south.
It is the country’s worst unrest for years.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the main mosque where members of the Muslim community have been bringing their dead.
A Red Cross worker said on Saturday he had counted 218 bodies awaiting burial in the building. The overall death toll was expected to be much higher with some victims already buried and others taken to hospitals and places of worship.
Murtala Sani Hashim, who has been registering the dead as they are brought to the city’s main mosque, told reporters he had listed 367 bodies and more were arriving. Ten corpses wrapped in blankets, two of them infants, lay behind him.
A doctor at one of the city’s main hospitals said he had received 25 corpses and 154 injured since the unrest began.
Police spokesman Bala Kassim said there were “many dead,” but couldn’t cite a firm number.
“They are still picking [up] dead bodies outside. Some areas were not reachable until now,” said Al Mansur, a 53-year old farmer who said all the homes around his had been razed.
Soldiers patrolled on foot and in jeeps to enforce a 24-hour curfew imposed on the worst-hit areas. Overturned and burnt-out vehicles littered the streets while several churches, a block of houses and a school in one neighborhood were gutted by fire.
The Red Cross said around 7,000 people had fled their homes and were sheltering in government buildings, an army barracks and religious centers.
A senior police official said five neighborhoods had been hit by unrest and 523 people detained.
Nigeria’s 140 million people are roughly equally split between Muslims and Christians and the two communities generally live peacefully side by side.
But ethnic and religious tensions in the country’s “middle belt” have bubbled for years, rooted in resentment by indigenous minority groups, mostly Christian or animist, towards migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.
The latest clashes between gangs of Muslim Hausas and mostly Christian Beroms began early on Friday.
Angry mobs gathered on Thursday in Jos after electoral workers failed to publicly post results in ballot collation centers, prompting many onlookers to assume the vote was the latest in a long line of fraudulent Nigerian elections.
Few Nigerian elections have been deemed free and fair since independence from Britain in 1960, and military takeovers have periodically interrupted civilian rule.
Hundreds were killed in ethnic-religious fighting in Jos, the capital of Plateau state, in 2001. Hundreds more died in 2004 in clashes in Yelwa, also in Plateau, leading then-Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo to declare an emergency.