News24

Rumour sparks panic in Nigerian city

2012-07-05 17:26

Kaduna - Rumours of looming sectarian violence sparked panic in Nigeria's Kaduna on Thursday, a city still on edge after religious rioting last month killed dozens.

Shops closed and parents raced to school to pick up their children, after an unexplained car explosion and reports that Muslim groups in the divided northern city were planning to protest, residents and officials said.

Tension was first raised late on Wednesday, when a car parked on the side of the road blew up, although no one was hurt and there were no indications that a bomb was involved, according to regional army spokesperson Colonel Sani Usman.

Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists carried out three suicide attacks on churches in Kaduna and the nearby city of Zaria last month and residents "panicked unnecessarily", fearing the group may have struck again, Usman said.

By Thursday morning, the city was rife with baseless reports that Muslims, angry over the death of their relatives during religious-fuelled rioting last month, were planning protests in Kaduna's Christian southern half.

"I received a call from a teacher at Christ Church School that I should come and take my children back home," Esther Dada said. "I arrived there and saw parents picking up their kids, saying there was an SMS that Muslims are going to protest."

Anxiety

Her account was supported by other residents, and Kaduna state police spokesperson Aminu Lawan confirmed that such a text message had circulated widely around the city, but insisted that reports of a planned protest were untrue.

Shehu Sani, a prominent rights activist in Kaduna, said the sequence highlights the persisting anxiety in the city, still under curfew, after violence by rival religious mobs last month left at least 61 people dead.

Christian groups, furious over the 17 June church bombings, rampaged around Kaduna, burning mosques and killing Muslims, burning some of their victims.

The following day Muslim groups responded, killing several of their Christian neighbours.

"There is this fear of the continuation of the violence," Sani said.

Kaduna, formerly the political capital of northern Nigeria, is one of the few religiously divided cities in the country's mainly Muslim north.