After days of Christian-Muslim violence in Nigeria following violent protests last weekend over published cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, the death toll rose to at least 96 on Wednesday.
"I've counted more than 20 people killed today," said an Onitsha resident, Isotonu Achor, to the Associated Press.
Mobs of rioters with machetes and shotguns rampaged through the mainly Christian city in southern Nigeria on Wednesday, AP reported.
"Major streets are littered with bodies of people killed today, most of them northerners," Achor said. Other witnesses also said they saw at least 20 dead.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with more than 130 million people, is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a Christian south. Since 2000, thousands of people have died in sectarian violence between Christian and Muslim conflicts. However, experts have pointed out that many of the past Muslim-Christian clashes in Nigeria were linked to ethnic, economic, and political conflicts with religious overtones.
The number of deaths of at least 96 was counted since Saturday’s violent protest that erupted over cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad that were first printed by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media and elsewhere. Muslims consider any depiction of Allah and their prophets to be blasphemy.
In Nigeria’s northern and predominantly Muslim city of Maiduguri, angry Muslims burned 30 churches and killed 18 people, mostly Christians. Similar protests occurred on Monday and Tuesday in the northern city of Bauchi, where 25 people were killed when Muslim mobs attacked Christians there.
"That an incident in far away Denmark which does not claim to be representing Christianity could elicit such an unfortunate reaction here in Nigeria, leading to the destruction of Christian Churches, is not only embarrassing, but also disturbing and unfortunate," said Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, president of Christian Association of Nigeria, in a statement on Tuesday.
"We have for a long time now watched helplessly the killing, maiming and destruction of Christians and their property by Muslim fanatics and fundamentalists at the slightest or no provocation at all," Akinola added.
Violence also took place in Onitsha on Tuesday where Christian militants burned two mosques and at least 30 people were killed, most of them northern Muslims. Thousands of Muslims with northern origins afterwards took shelter in the military barracks of the city.