World recoils as 500 slaughtered in Nigeria attack
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. AFP – The body of a man killed during civil unrest lies on the ground in Zot, some 10km south of Jos. UN chief …
by Aminu Abubakar Aminu Abubakar – 53 mins ago
JOS, Nigeria (AFP) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday appealed for "maximum restraint" amid revulsion at the slaughter of more than 500 Christians in Nigeria, as survivors told how the killers chopped down their victims.
Funerals were taking place for victims of the three-hour orgy of violence in several Christian villages close to the city of Jos, which was blamed on members of the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group.
While troops were deployed to the three villages to prevent new attacks, security forces detained 95 suspects but faced bitter criticism over how the killers were able to go on the rampage at a time when a curfew was meant to be in force.
Newspaper reports said Muslim residents of the villages in Plateau state had been warned by phone text message two days ahead of the attack, so they could escape before the exit points were sealed off.
Survivors said the attackers were able to separate the Fulanis from members of the rival Berom group by chanting 'nagge', the Fulani word for cattle. Those who failed to respond in the same language were hacked to death.
One local paper said the gangs shouted "Allah Akhbar" -- Arabic for "God is greatest" -- before breaking into homes and setting them alight in the early hours of Sunday. Churches were among the buildings that were burned down.
The Vatican led a wave of outrage with spokesman Federico Lombardi expressing the Catholic Church's "sadness" at the "horrible acts of violence".
Ban told reporters he was "deeply concerned".
"I appeal to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint," he said.
As several former Nigerian heads of state and the state government held a peace conference in a Jos hotel, dozens of students demonstrated outside with placards reading: "We Want Peace in Plateau" and "Say No to Genocide".
The death toll was initially put at a little over 100 but then shot up. The information ministry said pregnant women were among those killed and around 200 people were being treated in hospital.
"We have over 500 killed in three villages and the survivors are busy burying their dead," said state information commissioner Gregory Yenlong.
"People were attacked with axes, daggers and cutlasses -- many of them children, the aged and pregnant women."
Much of the violence was centred around the village of Dogo Nahawa, where gangs set fire to straw-thatched mud huts before embarking on their rampage.
The explosion of violence is the latest between rival ethnic and religious groups. In January, 326 were killed in clashes in and around Jos, according to police figures, although rights activists put the overall toll at more than 550.
"The attack is yet another jihad and provocation," the Plateau State Christian Elders Consulatative Forum (PSCEF) said in a statement.
However the archbishop of the capital Abuja, John Onaiyekan, told Vatican Radio the violence was rooted not in religion but in social, economic and tribal differences.
"It is a classic conflict between pastoralists and farmers, except that all the Fulani are Muslims and all the Berom are Christians," he said.
A curfew which was imposed after January's unrest is supposed to be still in place but Christian leaders said the authorities had done nothing to prevent the bloodshed.
The PSCEF said it had contacted the army at 1:30 am as the attacks began.
"We were shocked to find out that the soldiers did not react until about 3:30 am after the attackers had finished their job and left," the forum added.
Witnesses said armed gangs had scared people out of their homes by firing into the air but most of the killings were as a result of machete attacks.
"We were caught unawares ... and as we tried to escape, the Fulani who were already waiting, slaughtered many of us," said Dayop Gyang, of Dogo Nahawa.
Newspapers said Muslims had been warned in advance about the attacks.
"I will confess to the fact that ...I got a text message about movement of the people," Gbong Gwon Jos, a Muslim resident of Dogo Nahawa, told The Nation daily.
Rights activists said the slaughter appeared to be in revenge for the January attacks in which mainly Muslims were killed.
Locals said Sunday's attacks were the result of a feud which had started over cattle theft then worsened after deadly reprisals.
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan's office said the security services in Plateau and neighbouring states had been placed on high alert to ensure the violence did not spread.