Afghani Conflict Triggers Deadly Muslim-Christian Violence in Nigeria

ROME — Confrontations between Christians and Muslims the weekend of Oct. 12-14 resulted in at least 200 dead and hundreds wounded in the city of Kano in northern Nigeria. The attacks followed protests against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.

Violent incidents continued to rage in that city Oct. 15.

Five of those who died were rioters fatally shot by police, according to Reuters news agency. A sixth person was shot to death Oct. 15.

Among the 235 people arrested were five leaders of the group that organized the anti-airstrike rally, said Kano State Police Commissioner Yakubu Bello Uba. At least one church and mosque were damaged in the fighting.

Father Giulio Albanese, director of the Misna missionary agency, said it “all began last Friday [Oct. 12], during the traditional Muslim prayer. When the prayer was over, the people came out of the mosques and the demonstrations began, which at first seemed to have a rather spontaneous character.”

“The fact is that later many villains began to shout slogans against the United States: ‘Allah, curse America!’” he said. “The confrontations continued throughout the night and, unfortunately, both the army as well as the police were unable to contain the violence of these fanatics, who also burned stores and places of worship.”

“Numerous Christians tried to flee from the city,” Father Albanese said. “Terror reigned for 48 hours. The risk is that these demonstrations against the United States will spread to other Muslim-majority states of northern Nigeria.”

The Motive

Misna's director speculated on the motives behind the violence.

“The Muslim fundamentalist world wishes to become the champion of the interests of the peoples of the South of the planet, affirming first and foremost the option of a theocracy,” he said.

“In a word, fundamentalist Islam is unable to make the distinction between the secularism of the state and the religious aspect,” the priest added. “In addition, the Shariah, or Islamic law, is frequently imposed. Thus, real injustices are committed against religious minorities.”

Father Albanese believes that “the only hope consists in really stressing the way of dialogue, especially in formation, because, unfortunately, these events are symptoms of the great ignorance with which many speculate. There are people who are easy to manipulate by these extremist groups, who want the ‘holy war’ at all costs.” On Oct. 17, Pope John Paul II condemned Muslim-Christian rioting in Nigeria and called for the world's peoples to rediscover “the way of fraternity.”

“Another episode of ferocious violence has added itself to the tragic world situation in these days,” the pope said at the end of his general audience Oct. 17.

“Whoever is at the root of these unjustifiable acts will bear the responsibility of it before God,” he said.

The Pope promised his spiritual closeness to Kano Bishop Patrick Francis Sheehan and those who lost loved ones in the attack.

“I pray that God helps all redis-cover the way of fraternity. Only in this way will it be possible to fulfill the expectations of God, who wants to make humanity a single family,” he said.

Two days earlier, the head of the Nigerian bishops' conference suggested President Bush take a break in bombing Afghanistan and root out terrorism by building hospitals instead.

Missiles vs. Hospitals?

“The missiles used against coded destinations cost millions of dollars and are being hurled into the desert. The cost of just one of them could build 20 hospitals in Nigeria,” said Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja.

The archbishop, in Rome for the Synod of Bishops, was interviewed Oct. 15 by Fides, news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

The archbishop said the U.S.-led coalition's explanation that the bombings were necessary to root out terrorists “seems not to convince” Nigeria's Muslim protesters.

“They say the ‘war on terrorism’ is just an excuse to attack a Muslim country,” he said.

Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair speak of “the civilized world” being united in the war on terrorism, Archbishop Onaiyekan said, but “they seem to forget that there are billions and billions of other human beings whose priority is not war.”

Last month, another outbreak of Muslim-Christian fighting in the city of Jos claimed 165 lives. The predominantly Christian city is located in northern Nigeria, a predominantly Muslim region.