Christian and Muslim riots in two Nigerian cities left at least 24 people dead on Tuesday, only days after Muslim demonstrators attacked Christians and churches this past weekend in violent protests against cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
Tuesday’s violence broke out in the mainly Muslim northern city of Bauchi, targeting Christians and killing 18 people, reported the Nigerian Red Cross to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, according to residents and witnesses, Christian mobs rioted in the southern and predominantly Christian city of Onitsha, burning two mosques and killing at least six Muslims in what appeared to be a reprisal for the anti-Christian violence Saturday.
According to the secretary of the Red Cross in Bauchi, mobs in the Christian-targeted violence Tuesday ran through the streets wielding machetes and sticks.
"I am just coming back from Gombe Road, where we carried two dead bodies, both badly mutilated, and just at Boni Haruna Street near the Specialist Hospital, two of my staff were attacked and are seriously wounded," Adamu Abubakar told AP. "So, the situation is still delicate."
In Onitsha, a resident and businessman told AP by telephone the situation in the southern and predominantly Christian city.
"The mosque at the main market has been burnt and I've counted at least six dead bodies on the streets," said Izzy Uzor. "The whole town is in a frenzy and people are running in all directions."
According to AP, the anti-Muslim violence in Onitsha appeared to be in retaliation to the attacks on Christians last Saturday in the mostly Muslim northern city of Maiduguri. This past weekend, thousands of Muslims protesting against the Muhammad cartoons attacked Christians and burned down 30 churches, killing at least 18 people, most of them Christians. The Christian Association of Nigeria said at least 50 people were killed in the riot.
The Muslim mobs were protesting caricatures of the 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.
Christian groups such as International Christian Concern (ICC) had earlier expressed concerns that as Muslim outrage grew against the publication of the cartoons, Christians would increasingly be targeted because of their assumed association with the Western world.
Nigeria – with a population of more than 130 million – is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a Christian south. In recent years tension has been building between Christians and Muslims and thousands of death has resulted from conflicts. Experts, however, point out that many past Muslim-Christian clashes in Nigeria were the result of competition between ethnic groups in which religion was used to ignite ethnic tensions and "manipulated" to mobilize large numbers of people.
Saturday’s attacks marked the first violent demonstration over the caricatures in Nigeria. Tuesday’s violence brings the death toll to 49 people killed in sectarian violence in Nigeria since then.