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Machete attacks in central Nigeria leave 19 dead

Machete attacks in central Nigeria leave 19 dead
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 11:48pm

JOS, Nigeria – Men armed with rifles and machetes killed 19 people in attacks on three villages in volatile central Nigeria, authorities said Tuesday.

Three homes were attacked in the Christian village of Kuru Station about 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the central Nigerian city of Jos, a flashpoint of religious tension between Christians and Muslims, a community leader said.

"It was a very terrible scene, a very pathetic scene," Riyom local government chairman Simon Mwaekwom told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

He said villagers told him armed men woke up the houses' occupants around midnight with gunshots and forced them out before setting their homes ablaze and attacking them with machetes. In total, 19 people, including women and children, died in the assaults and at least three others were injured, police say.

"Those that escaped said they saw military men; the military men were shooting and the other people burning the houses and macheteing the villagers," Mwaekwom said.

He said the villagers claimed to have picked up two identification cards left behind by military attackers, but the military disputed their claim and said villagers attacked the soldiers in retaliation.

"When you lose someone, it is a period of anguish and reactions can come in different folds," said Brigadier Hassan Umaru, commandant of the Plateau State Special Task Force. "After the attack, the villagers went to the soldiers' living quarters, brought out their properties and burned them. It was thereafter that they said they got an ID card."

A military post stands about 200 meters away from the scene of the attack. The villagers told Mwaekwom that they had asked the soldiers for help and that they refused.

"If there was anything like that and the soldiers did not respond, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken against them," Umaru said. "We will not allow that to happen."

Umaru said that Fagawon, another predominantly Christian village about 80 kilometers from Jos, was attacked soon after the incident in Kuru Station. He said two people were killed and three houses and three motorcycles were burned.

Umaru said that Fagawon, another predominantly Christian village about 80 kilometers from Jos, was attacked soon after the incident in Kuru Station. He said two people were killed and three houses and three motorcycles were burned.

Sectarian violence has been on the rise in recent weeks in Jos and surrounding areas.

Plateau State police commissioner Abdurrahman Akano said Sunday that at least eight people died in weekend rioting that began when Christian youths in a village nearby attacked a car carrying Muslims home from a wedding Friday night. Separately, three people were killed and several others were wounded in Jos when a meeting of a political party aligned with former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari collapsed into violence Saturday, witnesses said.

Those attacks came after four bombs exploded in Jos on Christmas Eve, killing at least 32 people.

Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. Jos is in the nation's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands.

The Jos violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands.

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