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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Investigation into violence and destroyed churches in Nigerian town continues

By Alex Murashko

Assist News Service

DUTSE , NIGERIA (ANS) — Investigations are still ongoing for arson fires set by Muslim mobs last week in the northern Nigerian town of Dutse . The rioting and fires damaged up to 70 structures, including churches, homes, and Christian businesses, said a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) leader.

The attacks came when already tense relations between Muslims and Christians in the capital of Jigawa were stressed further by comments made by Pope Benedict XVI during his Regensburg address earlier in the month. Benedict quoted criticism of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus.

The Pope has since issued a statement to say that he had never meant to offend Islam. However, demonstrations and violence by some Muslims have been ongoing worldwide.

Nigerian authorities believe the trouble in Dutse was started as the result of a Christian market trader insulting the Prophet Muhammad in the presence of a Muslim customer, according to a BBC news service report.

However, the cause for the rioting and fires may be a combination of the two events — one international and one local, said Khataza Gondwe, a CSW Advocacy Officer for Sub Saharan Africa.

“Whenever an event occurs internationally to inflame the delicate relations between Muslims and Christians, Christians in vulnerable communities become tense,” Gondwe said. “Following the Pope’s comments it was almost inevitable that trouble of some sort would break out in Nigeria , given the religiously tinged tension and violence in recent years.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide along with its partners in Nigeria are investigating further this week, trying to get a fuller picture of what happened in Dutse. Currently, the human rights organization is reporting that 10 to 12 churches were burned down, about 40 Christian businesses and 20 homes have been looted and destroyed.

CSW officials have received reports that churches of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria lost at least 12 churches belonging to the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), including the Winners Chapel, Deeper Life Church , Assemblies of God and Calvary Bible Church .

Bishop Kwashi of Jos said in an interview that possibly three churches out of about 15 are still standing in the town. The destroyed churches include three Evangelical Church of West Africa churches and Living Faith church. The Anglican Bishop, Rev Yusufu Lumu, had to seek shelter in a local police station along with his wife and three children when his home was partially destroyed in the violence, according to a CSW release.

Local police authorities said the situation, which began last Tuesday, is now under control. Hundreds of Christians had sought refuge during the week at police headquarters in a predominantly Muslim Nigerian town.

CSW is reporting that police did not respond initially until the violence had subsided. Local representatives of the Christian Association of Nigeria visited the town’s police station to warn them of a possible outbreak of violence. They asked for the police to deploy to forestall the violence, but the police did not respond.

“The initial reasons for a lack of deployment have yet to be uncovered,” Gondwe said. “The governor has said victims will be compensated. We pray that this will indeed occur.

“Christians are rarely, if ever, compensated for their losses in such violence. So far, the victims of the violence in Maiduguri have received no compensation and continue to meet in destroyed churches.”