Soldiers with machine guns patrolled the streets of Jos in the back of pickup trucks on Wednesday, following days of religious violence between Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria that killed more than 200 people.
Two charred bodies were visible at an army check point and a fresh corpse lay on the side of the road leading into Jos. A nearby mosque still smoldered, its spires blackened by fires.
Authorities have imposed a 24-hour curfew in Jos, but people were seen walking around the centre of the city. When an army convoy passed, they stopped and raised their hands above their head to show they were not a threat.
The rioting began on Sunday after Muslim youths set a Catholic church ablaze. Witnesses said rioters armed with knives, homemade firearms and stones attacked passers-by and fought with security forces, leaving bodies in the street and stacked in local mosques.
Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that more than 200 people have been killed in the religious violence. The group also called on Nigeria’s government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killings.
“This is not the first outbreak of deadly violence in Jos, but the government has shockingly failed to hold anyone accountable,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Enough is enough. Nigeria’s leaders need to tackle the vicious cycle of violence bred by this impunity.”
Jos, the capital of Plateau State, has a history of community violence that has made elections difficult to organize. Rioting in September 2001 killed more than 1,000 people and Muslim-Christian battles killed up to 700 people in 2004. More than 300 residents died during a similar uprising in 2008.
The city is situated 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.
While religious violence does happen in Nigeria, it normally has its roots in local issues, rather than influence from international extremist groups.
The Minister of Police Affairs, Ibrahim Yakubu Lame, issued a statement on Tuesday blaming the violence on “some highly placed individuals in the society who were exploiting the ignorance and poverty of the people to cause mayhem in the name of religion.”
Mohammed Larema, a local police spokesman, said that security forces had brought the fighting to a halt Tuesday and that the situation was under control. However, the state government called for additional military units to enter the city.
“The situation is bad and the federal government is yet to deploy the troops requested,” said Gregory Yenlong, a state spokesman.