JOS, Nigeria : Clashes left at least one person dead and a number of houses burned in the Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday amid tensions following a series of Christmas Eve bomb attacks that killed dozens.
Soldiers patrolled the streets of the central Nigerian city and authorities sought to keep the violence from further spreading after Friday's bombs that claimed at least 32 lives.
Previous outbreaks of violence between Christian and Muslim ethnic groups have killed hundreds, and the bombs added a worrying new dimension to the unrest ahead of April elections.
“There were some skirmishes between the two groups and it's under control now,” state police commissioner Abdulrahman Akano told AFP. “One or two houses were burnt.”
Asked about deaths, he said, “we have seen only one — one person.”
An AFP correspondent said at least two houses burned and heavy smoke was coming from another area of the city. He also said crowds ran through the streets earlier in the day, with some claiming people had been killed.
The commissioner said the two groups involved in the clashes were “the locals and the so-called settlers.”
Christians from the Berom ethnic group are typically referred to as the indigenes in the region, while Hausa-Fulani Muslims are seen as the more recent arrivals.
Many attribute unrest in the region to the struggle for political and economic power between the groups.
A spokesman for the governor of Plateau state, where Jos is the capital, said authorities were deployed to control youths earlier Sunday, but he could not say what had occurred.
“There was tension in certain parts of the town where the bombs exploded,” said the spokesman, James Mannok. “What I heard was that the youths there are still agitated. The security agencies are controlling them.”
Mannok said the governor, Jonah David Jang, had encouraged youths to assist authorities in spotting suspicious activity. He stressed that the governor was not encouraging them to use violence.
Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo was due to visit the city Sunday, but later cancelled. Mannok could not say why.
A deputy chief for the national police arrived from the capital and said four units of reinforcements would be dispatched to the area from other states, according to Mannok.
The US embassy issued a statement condemning the violence, calling on the government to bring the perpetrators to justice and saying its citizens in affected areas should remain vigilant.
At least 32 people were killed and 74 wounded when seven explosions went off in two different areas of Jos on Friday evening, with many of the victims doing their Christmas shopping at the time. A church was also targeted, the governor has said.
On the same night, suspected members of an Islamist sect that launched an uprising last year attacked three churches in northern Nigeria, leaving six people dead and one of the churches burnt.
There was no immediate indication the incidents in the vast country's north and central regions were linked.
Army Chief of Staff Azubuike Ihejirika told reporters in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt that the bomb blasts amounted to “terrorism.”
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged that those behind the bombings would be hunted down and brought to justice.
A heavy deployment of soldiers could be seen in the streets of Jos on Sunday, and troops were stopping and searching cars.
The city is in the so-called middle-belt region between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south and has long been a hotspot of ethnic and religious friction in Nigeria.
Local rights groups say 1,500 people have died in inter-communal violence in the Jos region this year alone.
Some observers say tensions have been exploited and violence has been instigated for political aims. Poverty, unemployment and deeply rooted corruption have ensured a restless population of youths.
“The aim of the mastermind is to pit Christians against Muslims and spark off another round of violence that will eventually culminate in the scuttling of the ongoing electioneering activities,” the state governor said.
Observers have warned of an increase in violence in the run up to the elections in Africa's most populous nation, also one of the world's largest oil producers.
Pope Benedict XVI deplored the “absurd violence” against Christians after the attacks on churches in Nigeria and in the Philippines over the Christmas holiday.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia