KADUNA – Bodies littered the ground and piled up in mortuaries in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna yesterday, after dozens were killed in religious rioting sparked by suicide bomb attacks on churches.
There was still no official word on casualties from Sunday’s violence, which broke out after suspected Islamist suicide car bombers attacked three churches in northern Nigeria, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens.
Christian youths set up roadblocks and dragged Muslims from cars and motorbikes and beat or burned them to death.
Corpses were piled one on top of the other in an old cemetery, some charred. A local soldier guarding the site said there were at least 30 bodies of people killed in the violence.
They had been dragged to the secluded cemetery, in a majority Christian neighbourhood, by the mobs who had killed them, he said.
‘Some people were killed and dumped down wells. We’ve had violence before, but this is the worst I’ve seen,’ the guard said.
The violence stoked fears of wider sectarian conflict in Nigeria, an OPEC member and Africa’s top oil producer that houses the world’s largest equal mix of Christians and Muslims.
A 24-hour curfew imposed by the Kaduna state government on Sunday largely succeeded in restoring order, residents said.
Mohammed Inuwa said he was lucky to escape with his life. As rampaging Christian youths pulled Muslim motorcyclists from their vehicles and beat them to death, he hid in a bush.
‘They were mostly killing okada riders (motorbike taxis). I was hiding in the bush while all this was going on. If they saw me, that would be it,’ the second-hand clothes merchant said, estimating that 15 people were killed near the place he was hiding.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s triple church bombings, Islamist sect Boko Haram, which is waging an insurgency in the northeast against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, has said it carried out deadly church attacks on the previous two Sundays.
Boko Haram church bombings seem calculated to trigger wider sectarian strife, often striking at the heart of Nigeria’s volatile ‘Middle Belt’ where the country’s mostly Christian south and Muslim north meet.
The Islamists’ leader, Abubakar Shekau, has said the attacks on Christians are revenge for the killings of Muslims.
But they have usually failed to spark sustained conflict in a nation whose Muslims and Christians mostly co-exist peacefully, despite periodic flare-ups of sectarian violence since independence from Britain in 1960.
The Vatican issued a statement on Sunday condemning the ‘systematic attacks against Christian places of worship’ which it said proved the existence of an ‘absurd plan of hate’ in Nigeria.
Religiously mixed Kaduna is near the Middle Belt and has several times been a flashpoint. Riots killed hundreds there in April last year when Jonathan, a southern Christian, defeated northern Muslim Muhammadu Buhari in elections.
Musa Ilela, an official with the National Emergency Management Agency in Kaduna, told Reuters the confusion surrounding Sunday’s riots meant there was still no clear death toll.
A health worker at a Kaduna hospital said he had counted 37 bodies in two hospital mortuaries from the violence. – Nampa/Reuters