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Nigerian cleric voices anger over religious cleansing comments

KANO/ABUJA/MAIDUGURI: A senior Muslim cleric in Nigeria Sunday accused a Christian leader of intimidation for saying recent attacks that have killed more than 80 people suggest “religious cleansing.”

Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, compared the killings to the run-up to the 1960s civil war which claimed more than a million lives.

“We are reminded by the occurrences of these killings of the genesis of the civil war that took place here in Nigeria,” he said.

The killing of dozens of Christians in attacks blamed on Islamists in the north of Nigeria in recent weeks suggests “ethnic and religious cleansing,” Oritsejafor said Saturday.

He added that an emergency meeting of church heads concluded “that the pattern of these killings does suggest to us a systematic ethnic and religious cleansing.”

Oritsejafor said the Christian leadership resolved to “work out means to defend ourselves against these senseless killings.” He did not elaborate.

“We have the legitimate right to defend ourselves and ... we will do whatever it takes,” he added.

“We find the utterances ... an intimidation and a threat to Nigerian Muslims,” Sheikh Khalid Aliyu, secretary-general of Jama’atu Nasril Islam, an umbrella grouping of Muslim organizations in Nigeria, told AFP, following Oritsejafor’s statement.

Aliyu said: “Such pronouncements calling for ... Christians to defend themselves are unacceptable to us and are meant to wage attacks on Muslims.”

He said Muslims bore the brunt of most Islamist attacks in the northeast of Africa’s most populous country.

Aliyu said Oritsejafor’s comments were “reckless” and insulted the Muslim faith, but added “we will not take the law into our hands.”

The JNI secretary-general added that when hundreds of Muslims were killed in post-election violence in April last year and when Christians killed worshippers during the Muslim festival of Eid “did we threaten to attack anybody in revenge?”

At least six gun and bomb attacks blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram and targeting Christians have killed more than 80 people.

Nigeria’s 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

The Christian leaders condemned the state governors in the areas where the killings have taken place for failing to act to stop the killings.

“We hold them responsible for these heinous killings of people taking place in their states. We will not take it lightly,” they said.

Adamawa state, where most of the killings took place Friday, has been placed under a 24-hour curfew since late Saturday afternoon.

Separately, gunmen who are suspected Boko Haram members have killed three people on an attack on a tea shop in northeast Nigeria, according to police

Meanwhile, gunfire could be heard Sunday in a market in Maiduguri, the spiritual home of Boko Haram.

The tea shop attack occurred Saturday night in Biu in Borno state.

Local police spokesman Simeon Midenda confirmed the attack.

The spokesman could not be immediately reached regarding Sunday’s attack in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 09, 2012, on page 10.

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