By Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos with Voice of America Correspondent Scott Stearns reporting from Lagos
LAGOS/JOS (Worthy News)-- Bodies of the dead — including many women and children — lined dusty streets in three mostly Christian villages south of Nigeria's regional capital of Jos early Monday, March 8, after rioters armed with machetes "slaughtered" over 200 people here, witnesses said.
Residents in the village of Dogo Nahawa said unidentified gunmen raided their village before dawn Sunday, March 7, shooting in the air to draw people out of their homes before attacking them with machetes and knives.
In Dogo Nahawa, a village three miles (five kilometers) south of Jos, residents also told reporters that the dead included a 4-day-old infant.
A Voice of America (VOA) network reporter in Nigeria said earlier that journalists on the scene south of the city of Jos counted at least 100 bodies. Houses were reportedly burned in similar raids on the nearby villages of Ratsat and Zot.
Acting President Goodluck Jonathan put security forces in Plateau state on high alert. A statement from the presidency said security forces there and in neighboring states are meant to prevent the violence from spreading.
Sunday's killings represent the latest religious violence in an area once known as Nigeria's top tourist destination.
More than 300 people died in Jos in January in the latest round of Muslim-Christian violence. Previous clashes killed at least 1,000 people in 2001, 700 people in 2004, and 200 people in 2008.
Acting President Jonathan sent troops into Jos in January to stop the violence. But that has not diminished religious tension in the volatile city, with local Muslim leaders this past week saying they found a fresh pig's head in a mosque burned during the January killing. The walls of the mosque were allegedly painted with the pig's blood.
Christian leaders have however blamed Muslim mobs and militants attempting to impose Islamic law here for the violence.
Jos lies 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, analysts say.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for Sunday's clashes, but those who survived claimed their attackers shouted at them in Hausa and Fulani — two local languages used by Muslims, The Associated Press news agency reported.
A spokesman for Plateau state where Jos is located, Gregory Yenlong, said police were seeking to arrest Saleh Bayari, the regional leader of the Fulanis. He said Bayari's comments "incited" the attack, but offered no further details.
Earlier the Attorney General of Plateau state criticized the federal government for trying those arrested during the previous January violence under anti-terrorism laws, saying the matter is better dealt with locally.
Amid fears of more violence in central Nigeria, hundreds of people reportedly fled their homes.