JOS, Nigeria — Charred bodies with scorched hands reaching skyward lay in the streets and a mosque with blackened minarets smoldered Wednesday after several days of fighting between Christians and Muslims killed more than 200 people.
Sectarian violence in this central region of Nigeria has left thousands dead over the past decade, and the latest outbreak that began Sunday came despite the government's efforts to quell religious extremism in the West African country.
Jos was mostly calm Wednesday, though many terrified civilians kept indoors while soldiers patrolled the streets. The city is in Nigeria's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups mingle in a band of fertile and hotly contested land separating the Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south.
According to the state police commissioner, skirmishes began after Muslim youths set a Christian church ablaze, but Muslim leaders denied that. Other community leaders said it began with an argument over the rebuilding of a Muslim home in a predominantly Christian neighborhood. The home had been destroyed in November 2008.
After similar bouts of violence in the past, Nigerian authorities have "come up with analysis, but they don't respond properly with concrete measures and policies," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Tensions seethe, and months or years later you have another outbreak."
More than 13,500 Nigerians have died in sectarian violence in the past decade, Human Rights Watch said. No one has been held accountable, leading to a climate of impunity, Dufka said.
The chief of army staff confirmed accounts that some residents were dragged out of their homes and shot by men dressed in uniforms. He said five of the suspects arrested were dressed in khaki army-style uniforms and claimed to be police officers, though only one of the five men could provide police identification.