21 Dead in Religious Rioting in Central Nigeria

JOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Religious rioting in the troubled central Nigeria city of Jos has killed at least 21 people in recent days, as authorities seem to be unable to curb the rising violence.

An Associated Press journalist counted 21 bodies awaiting burial at the city's central mosque Friday. At the Jos University Teaching Hospital, doctors collected at least 12 bodies bearing gunshot and machete wounds, while another 82 were wounded in fighting in the city, said Dr. Stephen Yohanna, the hospital's chief medical director.

Families had begun collecting the dead Friday, so it was unclear if the 12 dead at the hospital were included among the dead collected at the city's central mosque. The Stefanos Foundation, a local Christian group which tallies the dead and wounded in conflicts in Jos, had yet to finish a count of the community's dead Friday, said foundation coordinator Mark Lipdo.

The violence began Monday in Jos, a city on the volatile dividing line between Nigeria's largely Christian south and Muslim north. A group of rioters on Monday attacked Muslims praying over the end of Ramadan in a primarily Christian neighborhood, using knives, machetes and bows and arrows, Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency said. At least four people died Monday, as witnesses said more than 50 vehicles and 100 motorcycles were set ablaze during the fighting.

Though army and police units moved into the affected neighborhood late Monday, the violence spilled into other neighborhoods as the unrest continued throughout the week. Officials with the police and military declined to comment Friday on the violence.

Most of the dead at the hospital bore gunshot wounds, Yohanna said, typically a sign that security forces killed them.

Jos sits in Nigeria's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands and political and economic power. While cutting across religious and ethnic lines, much of the violence finds its root in economic and political issues.

The government of Plateau state, where Jos is the capital, is controlled by Christian politicians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens. That has locked many out of prized government jobs in a region where the tourism industry and tin mining have collapsed in the last decades.

Human Rights Watch says at least 1,000 people were killed around Jos in 2010 and another 200 died at the turn of the year.