Detained Herdsmen Talk About Killings in Nigeria

THISDAY Newspaper

Dispassionately, the baby-faced young man recounted his killings: two women and one man, first beaten senseless with a stick, then stabbed to death with a short knife.

The man, Dahiru Adamu, 25, was crouching on the floor in the sprawling police headquarters here, summoned to give an accounting of the terrible night of March 7, when, he said, he and dozens of other herdsmen descended on a slumbering village just south of here and slaughtered hundreds with machetes, knives and cutlasses in a brutal act of sectarian retribution.

On Monday and Tuesday, 332 bodies were buried in a mass grave in the village of Dogo Na Hawa, the Nigerian Red Cross said Wednesday. Human rights groups and the state government say that as many as 500 may have been killed in the early hours of Sunday morning, in three different villages.

Sunday's killings were an especially vicious expression of long-running hostilities between Christians and Muslims in this divided nation. Jos and the region around it are on the fault line where the volatile and poor Muslim north and Christian south meet. In the past decade some 3,000 people have been killed in interethnic, interreligious violence in this fraught zone. The pattern is familiar and was seen as recently as January: uneasy coexistence suddenly explodes into killing, amplified for days by retaliation.

Mr. Adamu is a Muslim herdsman, and he said he went to Dogo Na Hawa, a village of Christians living in mud-brick houses on dirt streets, to avenge the killings of fellow Muslims and their cattle in January. The operation had been planned at least several days in advance by a local organization called Thank Allah, said one of Mr. Adamu's fellow detainees, Ibrahim Harouna, shackled on the floor next to him.

"They killed a lot of our Fulanis in January," Mr. Adamu said, referring to his ethnic group. "So I knew that this time, we would take revenge." His victims were sleeping when he arrived, he said, and he set their house on fire. Sure enough they ran out. "I killed three people," Mr. Adamu said calmly.

He and the other detainees showed no sign that they had been maltreated; some confessed to killings, and others denied them, speaking in front of the police.

The police quickly arrested about 200 people in connection with the killings, and many of them were crouching anxiously in rows on a bare concrete floor, outside the police headquarters on Wednesday morning. The police have confiscated 14 machetes, 26 bows, arrows, 3 axes, 4 spears and 44 guns. Victims, many of them women and children, were cut down with knives, short and long; few survived.

"Usually there are twice as many injuries as casualties," said Ben Whitfield of the Medécins Sans Frontières team in Jos. "It's unreal. These people were definitely caught in the middle of the night and meant to be killed." Like others in Jos, police officials say they are hoping for peace after years of sectarian killings in the region.

But they are not sure they will get it. The streets in this metropolis of several million were largely deserted Wednesday. Residents spoke of fear and anger, and some 4,300 have fled their homes.

Christians, in interviews, voiced suspicion of Muslims' intentions and associated them with the taint of terrorism. The state attorney general, Edward Pwajok, a Christian, said that Wednesday morning he had prosecuted a Nigerian Muslim man living in a Jos suburb that very day who had "acknowledged" being "a member of Al Qaeda."

Mr. Pwajok said there was no indication that the man, Samsudeen Sahsu, was connected to the killings; he said DVDs of Al Qaeda's activities had been discovered in the man's home. The group is not previously known to have penetrated Nigeria, though Mr. Sahsu, in a written confession provided by the attorney general, named other members of the "AlKaida Islamic Association." He said the headquarters were in Maiduguri, where last summer a radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, was bloodily suppressed by Nigerian security forces.

"Suspicion is still rife," the state police commissioner, Ikechukwu Aduba, said in an interview in his office in Jos. "We are appealing to the youth to sheath their swords and give peace a chance."

Mr. Aduba sharply disputed the elevated death toll put out by others, saying the police would confirm only 109 deaths.

But a Nigerian Red Cross official in Jos, Adeyemo Adebayo, deputy head of disaster management, said that the number of dead was "possibly" even greater than the 332 buried in the mass grave, since many fled into the bush and could have been cut down there by their attackers. A respected Nigerian human rights group, the Civil Rights Congress, said Monday that its members had counted 492 bodies.

Their attackers had come on foot from nearby villages and had made no preparations for a getaway, said Adebola Hamzat, chief superintendent of the Jos police. "Many of them were still running around," he said, when they were picked up by the security forces. And many were carrying "cutlasses" - long lethal-looking knives that the police produced for visitors on Wednesday - still stained with blood, he said.

"The person was coming towards me; I killed him with a cutlass," said the young man next to Mr. Adamu, Zakaria Yakubu, 20, insisting that he was defending a fellow Fulani who had been shot. His victim "did not die right away," Mr. Yakubu said. "When we got to Dogo Na Hawa, we were just looking for our cattle." He was clutching some bread distributed by the Red Cross.

Next to him, Ibrahim Harouna, also 20, would say only that he had "killed some of the peoples' pigs," though the police said he was also suspected of having taken part in the killings.

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On the streets of Jos on Wednesday, the mood was tense among Muslim traders, who complained of a sharp fall-off in business, and it was anything but forgiving among Christians. They complained that Muslims wanted to supplant "indigenes" - Christians long native to the region.

"Some people want to be rulers everywhere," said Yohanna Yatou, a businessman who said he was in the cement trade. "It's the Muslims. They said they are born to rule." Williams Danladi said that Muslims "believe that if they die during this war, they will go to heaven."

"We Christians, we don't believe this."

Others expressed puzzlement and exasperation with the never-ending conflict. "This is a Christian, an indigene," said Moussa Ismail, pointing to his friend sitting next to him on a downtown stoop, Jacob Ayuba. "We have done business for more than 20 years. How would I attack him?"


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