By BosNewsLife Africa Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
JOS, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- A tense calm returned to the Nigerian city of Jos Saturday, January 30, after hundreds of people were killed in days of clashes between Muslims and Christians, missionaries said.
"We are beginning to see some resemblance of peace, gradually...But how will you calm the nerves of those who are deeply hurt and badly traumatized?" added Gabriel Barau, the chairman of Jos-based Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association (NEMA).
Police said 326 people died while other sources claimed over 400 residents were killed in last week's riots as bodies were still unaccounted for. At least two pastors and 46 other Christians were among those killed, according to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), a major umbrella group, and other sources.
The reported deaths are believed to include a Christian family, suggested Barau. "Their house was set ablaze at about 1 a.m. by their Muslim neighbors when they were all asleep. The wife escaped in some strange circumstance that can only be explained by God. But the husband and three teenager children were burnt to death."
He added that, "The wife went seemingly mad and wondered why God kept her [alive] while her husband, children, their personal home and everything they owned in their 20 years of marriage are all gone...This is one of the horrific and insane situations to be managed in this crisis. I could tell you some other gory stories."
Over 300 people were detained for involvement in often deadly attacks, officials said.
However there have been conflicting reports over what caused the clashes. Some religious leaders said the violence was fueled by inflammatory text messages on mobile phones, including those urging Christians not to buy food from Muslims "because it was poisoned". Another text apparently told Muslims the state governor had ordered their water supply to be cut in an attempt to kill them.
But native Christian missionaries and at least some Christian right investigators suggested that the violence was "planned" by radical Muslims. "As I write, men dressed in army uniforms, whose true identity is yet to be fully ascertained, are going from house to house pulling out residents and shooting them dead," said one missionary, who only identified himself as Brother Gideon.
"This is happening in [the city areas of] Anglo Jos, Eto Baba, Tinna Junction, and Nasarawa where the crisis started on Sunday [January 17] with Muslim youths invading a Christian worship service," he added.
Rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has closely monitored the situation, quoted local sources earlier as saying that around 200 Muslim youth first gathered next to St. Michael’s Catholic Church.
From there, the mob launched an "unprovoked assault on a female passer-by" before attacking church members killing and injuring several of them, CSW told BosNewsLife. They also set fire to local houses, businesses and churches, including a Christ Apostolic Church, a church affiliated to the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) and another ECWA Church, CSW explained.
"I am greatly dismayed at what I saw. Rows of shops of Christian traders burnt down and churches burnt all over Jos. A number of churches are yet to count their deaths as sadly some are still lying out there on the streets," confirmed Brother Gideon. "It is clear that this is a systematically planned and orchestrated attack as Muslim youths are armed with sophisticated weapons and military uniforms." Barau observed that most Nigerian soldiers on the streets of Jos are Muslims and that there have been reports of "fake" soldiers.
"This afternoon while I was going round some parts of the city, a Muslim soldier assigned to protect isolated Muslim dominated spots in Jos pointed a gun at me and ordered me to reverse my car," he said. "He could have permitted me to make a turn, but he refused. My wife and I just simply complied, smiled and drove away. We are not even sure if he's a fake or real soldier."
With Jos slowly returning to a sense of normalcy, NEMA has begun counseling for those who lost loved ones and humanitarian aid programs. "Last Saturday we began to give food and other assistance to the hungry and homeless people who approached us. We are also responding to those traumatized, as well those that are physically needy of food and clothing, thanks to some friends who gave us what we may share with others," Barau stressed.
Christians comprise 40 percent of Nigeria's Muslim-majority population of some 150 million people. The clashes come amid mounting tensions in several Nigerian states where radical Muslims are reportedly trying to impose strict Islamic, or Sharia, law at the expense of Christian communities.
Jos, the capital of Plateau state, lies between Nigeria's mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south and it has seen sectarian riots in the recent past. Observers have linked these clashes to a fight over political and religious control over the area.