By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BAUCHI, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Thousands of people remained displaced Wednesday, February 25, by religious clashes in the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi which left at least 11 people dead and 100 hospitalized, Christian rights investigators and police said.
The violence escalated over the weekend when residents said Muslim youths went on a rampage attacking Christians and burning churches. The Muslims apparently responded to the torching of two mosques hours before in the state capital Bauchi, but it was difficult to verify those claims.
Some residents told reporters that tensions have risen in Bauchi, a city of four million, since February 13 when Pentecostal Christians allegedly barricaded a pathway used by Muslims attending Friday prayers at a nearby mosque. However Christian observers seemed to suggest that the Christian minority may have been targeted by Muslim extremists.
“We know that churches and mosques were destroyed,” explained Klaas Muurling, spokesman of well-informed advocacy group Open Doors, which supports Christians persecuted for their faith “Sunday morning, [for instance], around 2 a.m. local time at least two churches were engulfed by flames,” he told BosNewsLife.
So far, over 200 houses, six churches and three mosques were torched, the Bauchi Red Cross said in published remarks. “The situation in the town is still tense. There are many security forces patrolling the streets,” Muurling added.
Troops were deployed there and seven neighborhoods affected by the violence were under dusk-to-dawn curfew till normalcy is full restored, police said. At least seven people were reportedly detained for their alleged involvement in the violence.
Police commissioner Adanaya Tallman Gaya said in a statement that the situation remained difficult however as about, “4,500 people have been displaced and they camped at two army barracks in the city.”
An Open Doors team was on its way to help victims and investigate the situation. Red Cross representatives were also providing food items to the displaced but said tent supplies were exhausted and that many of the refugees were forced to sleep in the open.
“I’m still apprehensive and afraid to go back to my house because the situation is still tense and I can’t risk my life and that of my family,” French News Agency AFP quoted Yohanna Moses, who fled to the barracks from his home, as saying.
There was concern Wednesday, February 25, that Bauchi could see similar fighting as the town of Jos, located in the same region, where at least 125 Christians were killed in sectarian violence last November. Police reportedly killed over 300 Islamic rioters in those clashes.
Bauchi earlier suffered bloody sectarian strife in 2004 when Muslim-Christian violence in the town of Tafawa Balewa, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) away, spilled over to the city, and houses, mosques and churches were torched. (With reporting by BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar).