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JOS, Nigeria (AP) – Muslim volunteers searched Friday among charred buildings in neighborhoods in central Nigeria for remains of people killed in sectarian violence earlier this week.
In the village of Kurujantar about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Jos, where sectarian violence began Sunday, volunteers found corpses shoved three-at-a-time into sewer pits and scattered in bushes. Nearly all the mud-walled homes were destroyed and the outside of the central mosque was completely burnt.
Resident Adamu Bala said rioters rampaged through the Muslim neighborhood on Monday. He said Friday that police warned villagers to flee before the riot, and then left. The words “New Jerusalem” were written in charcoal on the walls of houses. Bala says the mob killed and set alight his brother. Burning of corpses is considered desecration in Islam.
Days of fighting between Christians and Muslims has killed more than 200 people in Jos and its surrounding villages, according to Human Rights Watch and more than 5,000 have been displaced.
Wardhead Umaru Baza, 58, a community leader in the village said Friday that more than 300 are dead because of the violence.
He said the police did not head the community’s call for help in the wake of violence in Jos, leaving the townspeople at risk when a mob of rioters came to attack. He said rioters were armed with new firearms.
Baza said he didn’t know where his wife was. “Maybe she’s dead,” he said, wiping a single tear.
Sectarian violence in this central region of Nigeria has left thousands dead over the past decade. The latest outbreak came despite the government’s efforts to quell religious extremism in the West African country.
The city is situated in Nigeria’s “middle belt,” where dozens of ethnic groups mingle in a band of fertile and hotly contested land separating the Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south.
There are conflicting accounts about what unleashed the recent bloodshed. According to the state police commissioner, skirmishes began after Muslim youths set a Christian church ablaze, but Muslim leaders denied that. Other community leaders say it began with an argument over the rebuilding of a Muslim home in a predominantly Christian neighborhood that had been destroyed in November 2008.