ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife) -- Nigerian Christians on Sunday, February 19, mourned those killed in violent protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, which claimed at least 16 lives.
It were the deadliest demonstrations against the Danish caricatures, including one showing Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with an ignited fuse, which many Muslims regard as blasphemous.
"They went on the rampage, burning shops and churches of the Christians. The protesters killed the others. Some were even killed in the churches," said Joseph Hayab, north-west secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Police Spokesman Haz Iwendi said 15 people. most of them Christians, were killed by rioters in the north-eastern state of Borno where the churches were burnt. One one person died in similar riots in the north-central state of Katsina, he said.
Chima Ezeoke, a Christian Maiduguri resident, told reporters that protesters attacked and looted shops owned by Christians, most of them with origins in the country's south. "Most of the dead were Christians beaten to death on the streets by the rioters," Ezeoke added.
The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted Witnesses as saying that three children and a priest were among those killed. There was no immediate confirmation of that report from church officials.
Police said thousands of rioters burned at least 11 churches in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in north-eastern Nigeria, about 875 kilometers (547 miles) from the capital Abuja.
Other reports said 15 churches were torched by angry Muslms.
The three-hour rampage Saturday, February 18, ended when troops and police managed to restore order, arresting dozens of people, Nigerian Police Spokesman Iwendi told media.
"The Muslim group came out to protest and the security forces tried to ensure it was peaceful, but there were some hoodlums in the crowd and somehow the security forces shot one or two of them," confirmed CAN official Hayab.
Thousands have been killed in Christian-Muslim clashes over the last five years in Nigeria where Christians comprise roughly 40 percent of the nearly 130-million strong population. Twelve northern states, including Borno, introduced Islamic sharia law in 2000 which experts say added to tensions between Christians and Muslims.
Nigeria's central government has accused local Muslim authorities and militants of escalating the violence in northern-Nigeria at a time of rising tensions over the cartoons.
Last week Nigeria's Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke Jr. claimed that intelligence reports indicated that Kano State had contracted foreign governments to train 100 “jihadists” to help it implement Sharia in the state.
Kano's authorities have not denied the charges, but asked the Supreme Court in Abuja to rule against the federal government's decision to outlaw the state's Sharia implementation agency, known as Hisbah Corps, African media reported.
Christians in the region have also complained that families can no longer travel together and that Christian women are attacked, and in some cases raped, by militants. Although they criticized the cartoons, moderate Muslim leaders around the world have condemned the violence, saying Prophet Muhammad brought a message of peace. "We want to move on to positive dialogue," said Anas Altikriti, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain.
Nigeria's latest Muslim violence came a day after at least 11 people died in the Libyan town of Benghazi in clashes between police and anti-cartoon protestors attacking the Italian consulate.
In Tripoli the General People's Congress fired Interior Minister Nasser al-Mabrouk Abdallah and police chiefs in Benghazi, saying "disproportionate force" had been used. The Congress hailed the dead as "martyrs" and declared Sunday, February 19. as a day of mourning across Libya, news reports said.
In, predominantly Catholic, Italy a minister, who wore a T-shirt on state television featuring cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, was also forced to resign.
A powerful charity led by a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi reportedly said that Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli's action sparked the violence in Libya.
Several international media outlets, including Budapest-based Christian Internet news agency BosNewsLife, also published the most controversial cartoon, citing press freedom and the right of all people to make "an informed judgment on issues in the news."
BosNewsLife's founder Stefan J. Bos defended the decision Sunday, February 19, saying the publication "was not to hurt Muslims, but to encourage people of all faiths to have a frank dialogue without violence."
He said there "seemed selective outrage over hurting religious feelings" among Muslim militants "as Middle East papers often publish anti-Semitic and anti-Christian cartoons, making jokes with the Holocaust or Jesus Christ, who Christians regard as God's only begotten Son."
But several church leaders and individual Christians strongly disagree with the publication of
the cartoons, saying they only add to tensions.
The Vatican also condemned the Prophet Muhammad caricatures.
Previous bloodshed this week related to the cartoons included protests in Pakistan where at least five people were killed and Christians have been attacked.
It became the latest country where Denmark decided to temporarily close its embassy, urging Danes to leave as soon as possible.
Police reportedly detained 40 activists of the student wing of an Islamist group in the city of Multan as they staged a protest in defiance of a government ban on public rallies in Punjab.
Thousands of people also demonstrated against the cartoons in London and one thousand in Copenhagen, the Danish capital.
ONE MILLION REWARD
On Friday, February 17, a Pakistani Muslim cleric and his followers offered rewards amounting to more than $1 million for anyone who killed the Danish cartoonists who drew the caricatures. One of the cartoonists, asking for anonymity, told Reuters news agency this has not been the first threat.
"This is not the first time we've been threatened, but of course I dislike it every time. I didn't think anyone outside the newspaper's readers would see the cartoon and now a billion people have. It's a surreal situation," he was quoted as saying.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said the issue has gone beyond a feud between Copenhagen and the Muslim world, "and now centered on Western free speech versus ‘taboos’ in Islam." (With BosNewsLife Researech, BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and reports from Nigeria, Pakistan and the United Kingdom).
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