ILAGOS, Nigeria – Christian mobs rampaged through a southern Nigerian city Tuesday, burning mosques and killing several people in an outbreak of anti-Muslim violence that followed deadly protests against caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad over the weekend.
Residents and witnesses in the southern, predominantly Christian city of Onitsha said several Muslims with origins in the north were beaten to death by mobs which also burned two mosques there.
"The mosque at the main market has been burnt and I've counted at least six dead bodies on the streets," Izzy Uzor, an Onitsha resident and businessman, told The Associated Press by telephone. "The whole town is in a frenzy and people are running in all directions."
The violence appeared to be in reprisal for anti-Christian violence Saturday in the mostly Muslim northern city of Maiduguri in which thousands of Muslims protesting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad attacked Christians and burned churches, killing at least 18 people.
Another Onitsha resident, Isotonu Achor, said one badly beaten Muslim man ran into his office from the streets to escape the violence.
"There is blood all over him and I'm scared they'll come for him here. If he doesn't get urgent treatment he will die," Achor said.
Police and government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country of more than 130 million people, is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a mainly Christian south. Thousands of people have died in religious violence in Nigeria since 2000.
Saturday's protest over the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in Maiduguri marked the first violent demonstrations over the issue in Nigeria. Police say at least 18 people, most of them Christians, died, and 30 churches were burned down. The Christian Association of Nigeria said at least 50 people were killed in the violence.
The cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September, have set off sometimes violent protests around the world. One caricature shows Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with an ignited fuse.
Islam widely holds that representations of Muhammad are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.
A Danish newspaper first printed the caricatures in September. Other newspapers, mostly in Europe, have reprinted the pictures, asserting their news value and the right to freedom of expression.