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200 arrested after Nigeria massacre

JOS, Nigeria (BP)–Police in central Nigeria have arrested about 200 people following the March 7 massacre in which as many as 500 Christians were murdered in nighttime raids by ethnic Fulani Muslims.

Rampaging Fulani herdsmen used machetes to kill the mostly ethnic Berom victims, including many women and children, in three farming villages near the city of Jos in Nigeria’s Plateau state. About 75 houses also were burned.

Authorities have filed murder charges against 49 of those arrested.

Some of those arrested said the attack was in revenge for the deaths of Muslims in January, when several days of fighting between Muslim and Christian mobs killed more than 400 people — mostly Muslims.

Survivors of the March 7 attack told authorities that houses were set ablaze and residents were slaughtered as they ran from their burning homes, news services reported.

The attackers asked people “Who are you?” in Fulani, a language used mostly by Muslims, and killed those who did not answer back in Fulani, the Associated Press reported.

Plateau state’s police commissioner, Ikechukwu Aduba, said police could confirm only 109 deaths but a Nigerian Red Cross official told The New York Times the number of dead “possibly” was greater than the 332 bodies buried in a mass grave. A Nigerian human rights group, the Civil Rights Congress, said its members had counted 492 bodies.

Tensions in the area are rooted in a complex set of ethnic, religious, political and economic factors.

Jos, a city of about 800,000 people, lies in a fertile “middle belt” of Nigeria where nomadic Fulani herdsmen vie for land against mostly Christian farmers. While northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and the south is mostly Christian, “Jos is a mini-Nigeria. All segments of Nigeria are here,” Aduba told the Associated Press. Muslims are seen as “settlers” and are ineligible for political office, while the mostly Christian “indigenes” have more social and economic opportunity. The police and military, however, are dominated by Muslims. Christians mostly support the ruling party, while Muslims generally back the opposition party.

The recent violence in Jos dates back to September 2001 rioting in which mobs of Christian young men roved the streets, killing people who identified themselves as Muslim. More than 1,000 people died in that rampage, according to the Associated Press. In 2004, mob violence claimed 700 lives and more than 300 died during a riot in 2008.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly

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