Nigeria: Arms cargo to epicenter of religious tension seized

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Nigerian security officials may have salvaged a bloody religious war following the arrest of a cargo of arms and ammunition being smuggled into the country from neighboring Chad destined for the volatile Jos region where religious tensions have claimed hundreds of lives since January.

Reports indicate that 52 Kalashnikov rifles and more than 1,700 rounds of ammunition rounds and about $32,000 were hidden underneath vegetables and dried fish in two cars driving into Nigeria from Chad.

“The weapons were heading for Jos, the epicenter of religious violence in Nigeria’s ‘middle belt,’ where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands,” said Director of the Nigeria State Security Service Abdullahi Ahmed

So far, five men have been arrested for trying to bring the weapons to the volatile Jos region, described as lying on the fault-line of Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north and mainly Christian south. The arrests were made by the Borno state director of the Nigeria State Security Service. Observers believe the weapons were being brought into the region ahead of anticipated religious clashes.

Nigeria is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south. The religious violence has been occurring in central Nigeria, where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands.

Notwithstanding its complex nature, religious violence in Nigeria often boils down to competition for resources such as land between those that see themselves as the true indigenes of an area and those that are considered to be more recent settlers.

And the Plateau State city of Jos lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. The city’s central geographical positioning makes it particularly influential in propagating its tensions and riots to other parts of the country.

In 2001, over 1,000 people died in protracted riots in the city.

A state of emergency was declared in the same State in May 2004 after Muslim Fulanis were attacked by Christian Tarok militia in the central Nigerian town of Yelwa, leading to the death of some 630 people. Another clash in the northern city of Kano caused at least 500 deaths, mostly Christians, after two days of rioting by Muslims in the same year.

Another week of rioting by the two monotheist religious communities claims at least 157 lives in February 2006 in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, after Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad emerged.

Two years later, in November 2008, a disputed local election leads to the death of at least 400 people in the central city of Jos again when Muslim and Christian gang altercations set off clashes. Three months later, in February 2009, 11 people are killed and several severely wounded after claches in the city of Bauchi.

The emergence of an extremist Islamist group, Boko Haram, which means “education is sin”, demanding a stricter version of the sharia law amid extreme violence in July 2009 in the northeastern city of Bauchi sees more than 50 people killed. 33 member of Boko Haram are killed in Yobe state after a gun battle, while security forces kill 90 sect members in Maiduguri.

And recent reports released by the Nigerian Police Force claims that 32 of its men were assassinated by members of Boko Haram.

The confiscated arms cargo proves that the Muslim Christian fault-line continues to fissure amid competition for resources and endemic poverty in ‘fault-line’ areas which have provided rich pickings for militant groups on both sides to fan the flames of violence.

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