Death toll Nigeria Christian-Muslim Clashes Climbs to Nearly 160, Fresh Fighting Erupts

Saturday, February 25, 2006

ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife) -- At least 11 people were killed in three Nigerian cities Friday, February 24, as fighting between Christians and Muslims further escalated, rising the overall death toll to nearly 160, several news reports said.

Over 900 people were believed to have been injured in a week of fighting that began with protests against Christians over the publication of the prophet Muhammad in northern Nigeria.

Barnabas Fund, a Christian rights group investigating the situation, said that Nigerian Christians reached "breaking-point" and "retaliated" against Muslims after violence Saturday, February 18, when over 50 Christians were killed and about 30 churches were torched by rioters in the town of Maiduguri in Borno state.

In response Christian "rioters in Onitsha, Anambra state, and Enugu, in neighboring Enugu state, attacked Muslims, Muslim-owned shops and two mosques. An estimated 85 people were killed, mainly Muslims," Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife. It described most of the attackers as "restive" youth.


On Thursday, February 23, Muslim militants joined their northern counterparts and reportedly killed at least 10 Christians and torched nine Churches in the town of Kontagora of central Nigeria's Niger state.

The Muslims protested what they see as the blasphemy of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, in cartoons published by a newspaper in Denmark and other media.

"The Muslim fanatics attacked Christians and burnt churches throughout the night," Joseph Bawa, a Christian resident of Kontagora, told Compass Direct news agency by telephone. The militants allegedly clubbed Bawa and his family. "I was beaten up by these Muslims, it is only God that saved me – I would have been killed," he was quoted as saying.


In statements the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) warned that it may no longer be able to restrain Christian youngsters. Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, suggested he had some understanding for Christian violence directed against Muslim militants.

"While I utterly deplore the Christian counter-attacks in Nigeria - for Christians should always be people of peace not violence - Archbishop Akinola [president of CAN] has rightly pointed out that peaceful conduct is all too often seen as weakness by Muslims," said Sookhdeo.

"This perceived weakness makes Christians all the more likely to be targeted. Western Christian leaders and Western governments, who are eager to prevent Muslim feelings from being hurt, do not seem to have the courage to speak out about what is happening to innocent Christian minorities in the Muslim world," he added.


"If they will not condemn the anti-Christian violence or even publicize it, can they be so surprised when non-Western Christians goaded beyond endurance, finally fight back?," Sookhdeo wondered. He also criticized Christian organizations who joined Muslim groups in the United Kingdom on February 18 to protest in London against the cartoons. "Did they have any concern for what Muslims are doing to Christian minorities who have absolutely no connection with the cartoons," he asked.

Moderate Muslim leaders have already made clear however that they condemn violence against Christians. Nigeria is among several countries that have seen an upsurge in anti-Christian violence following the cartoon publications, human rights workers say.

In Pakistan several churches were attacked as well as six Christian schools and one Christian hospital attacked. In Iraq at least 4 churches were reportedly bombed and Christian university students beaten up, Barnabas Fund said.

Other attacks reportedly occurred in Lebanon, where at least 1 church was attacked, Libya, with 1 church attacked, Syria with 3 churches attacked. In Turkey a Catholic church leader shot dead over the cartoons. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Nigeria).

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