JOS, Nigeria (AP)
The religious massacres have stopped, but "secret" killings of Christians and Muslims continue on a smaller scale across central Nigeria, claiming more than 30 lives this year, police said Tuesday.
The warning came after three people died and several others were injured Monday during an interfaith Easter prayer ceremony in Jos, a one-time Nigerian tourist town that finds itself at the epicenter of the religious tension plaguing Africa's most populous nation.
Plateau State Police Commissioner Ikechukwu Aduba told reporters Tuesday he would hold community leaders, parents and anyone else ordering attacks responsible before the law. However, even he seems lost when trying to explain the violence.
"Plateau used to be the home of peace and tourism, mini-Nigeria, a global home to all, but now the state has polarized into two," Aduba said. "We continue to pick up corpses on a daily basis due to the secret killings. ... Killing an innocent soul is satanic."
Aduba said the secret killings happen when Christians and Muslims stray into neighborhoods dominated by the other faith. Police and security forces can collect one or two bodies a night this way, he said.
Still, the violence remains hidden from public view since it hasn't reached the horrors of earlier in the year. More than 200 people — mostly Christians — died in March massacres in villages south of Jos. More than 300 people — mostly Muslims — died in January during rioting in the same region.
Nigeria, a country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. The recent bloodshed has been happening in central Nigeria, in the nation's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands.
The violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands. The government of Plateau State, where Jos is the capital, is controlled by Christian politicians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens. That has locked many out of prized government jobs in a region where the tourism industry and tin mining have collapsed in the last decades.
There have been efforts among both Christian and Muslims leaders to calm nerves.
However, an effort to bring both sides into prayers Monday failed as "hoodlums" took over the ceremony and then rioted in the street, security forces said.
Brig. Gen. Donald Oji, spokesman for the military force now securing Jos, dismissed claims that soldiers had caused the deaths. However, soldiers fired into a civilian crowd during the March unrest, killing at least two, witnesses said.