Onlookers gather near the bomb-damaged Shalom Church in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna June 17, 2012. REUTERS/StringerBy Garba MohammedKADUNA, Nigeria | Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:54am EDT
(Reuters) – At least 52 people were killed in religious rioting sparked by three suicide bombings against churches in northern Nigeria, where the dead were on Monday piled up in mortuaries and cemeteries in the city of Kaduna.
A Reuters reporter visited two hospitals in Kaduna, where the rioting broke out on Sunday after suicide car bombers attacked three churches in northern Nigeria, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens.
Christian youths had set up roadblocks and dragged Muslims from cars or motorbikes and killed them, witnesses said.
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Although there has been no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s church bombings, Islamist sect Boko Haram, which is waging an insurgency in the northeast against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, had claimed deadly church attacks on the previous two Sundays, as well as others.
Corpses littered the ground in parts of the city. They were piled one on top of the other in an old cemetery, some charred. A soldier guarding the site said there were at least 30 bodies of people killed in the violence at that site.
They had been dragged to the secluded cemetery, in a majority Christian neighborhood, by the mobs, he said.
“Some people were killed and dumped down wells. We’ve had violence before, but this is the worst I’ve seen,” he said.
A 24-hour curfew imposed by the Kaduna state government on Sunday largely succeeded in restoring order, residents 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.
In the St Gerald Hospital, spokesman Sunday Aliyu confirmed that there were 40 dead bodies in the hospital morgue and 72 being treated for burns and other wounds.
At Barau Dikko Hospital, Matron Hassana Garba confirmed 12 dead bodies and two injured people receiving treatment.
Mohammed Inuwa said he was lucky to escape with his life. He hid in a bush when rampaging Christian youths pulled Muslim motorcyclists from their vehicles and beat them to death.
“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 15 people were killed by the place he was hiding.
Boko Haram church bombings seem calculated to trigger wider sectarian strife, often striking at the heart of Nigeria’s volatile “Middle Belt”, where the mostly Christian south and Muslim north meet.
The Islamists’ leader, Abubakar Shekau, has said the attacks on Christians were in 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.
PUNCH: Boko Haram: Reprisal is a beastly idea
Nigerians should heed the timely warning by the Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, to strongly resist any urge to retaliate against the innocent in response to Boko Haram’s killings and other provocations. “We should not give room for reprisal. Protection of our neighbours should be our first principle.” The call points out a major flaw in targeting members of an ethnic group in the name of retaliation: it is innocent neighbours that bear the brunt. There is, of course, no religious justification for terror or reprisals. The world recognises that those extremists who fly the banner of religion to unleash violence on others are on the fringes and are disavowed by mainstream faiths.
The threats and attacks on Southerners and Christians also clearly reveal a sinister agenda by Boko Haram. It aims to provoke widespread sectarian strife to make the country ungovernable and thereby accomplish its ultimate goal of imposing its variant of sharia rule on some Northern states and forcing the splintering of Nigeria. Those pondering reprisals therefore unwittingly help the terrorists. A former military governor of old Kaduna State, Abubakar Umar, says that the terrorists gain when diverse groups tear into each other in revenge for the atrocities of a vicious, evil and violent sect. He is right.
One priority should be to promptly prosecute those hoodlums who recently hid under the excuse of reprisals to visit mayhem on other Nigerians. Failure to diligently apprehend those who terrorised and murdered others over the years has emboldened mass murderers and their sponsors. The state governments and opinion moulders should impress it on all that anyone staging reprisals is as vile as the Boko Haram bombers and gunmen and would be met with the full weight of the law.
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.
Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cock, Reuters