Hundreds of people were feared killed in the northern city of Kano during two days of anti-American riots led by Muslims protesting the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan, according to residents and police sources.
While police officially put the death toll at 13, residents and police officials said the number was likely to exceed 200.
Residents interviewed by telephone said the streets, littered with smoldering cars, were deserted Sunday as heavily armed troops, with armored personnel carriers and tanks, patrolled the city. Kano, which has about 1 million residents, remained under a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Soldiers have orders to shoot on sight anyone violating it.
Nigeria, with 120 million people, is West Africa's most populous country and a crucial supplier of oil to the United States. It is about evenly split between Christians, who live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who dominate in the north. Analysts and Muslim leaders said the rioting highlighted the danger faced by President Olusegun Obasanjo who supports the U.S.-led raids in Afghanistan.
"Muslims here, over 90 percent of them are outraged over the Afghanistan bombings," said Sulliman Kumo, a Muslim scholar.
A diplomat in Lagos said that while there was no sign Obasanjo's government was threatened, "if this continues, added to all the other problems, it could be a rough, rough ride."
The violence in Kano began after a peaceful march by Muslims after Friday's prayers at the mosque, residents said. But then a group of angry Muslims, many carrying posters of bin Laden and anti-U.S. banners, came across a small group of Christians and attacked them.
Kumo said the violence was sparked by a group of "hoodlums" who took advantage of the emotional situation.
Clashes spread across the city and crowds began to loot and burn buildings, residents said.
"Many people were killed last night as Christians or Muslims living in isolated areas of the city were picked off by rival gangs," Charles Ochiama, a Christian banker, said from his sanctuary in a military barracks. "My house in the mainly Muslim Zango area was attacked and burned by rioters. . . . Hundreds of people were not as lucky."