Today Al-Jazeera picked up on a horrifying story that I have been hearing rumours of since Tuesday. On Tuesday, a friend posted on Facebook and on his blog the following email plea from a farm owner based in Plateau State on the outskirts of Jos:
We are receiving terrible news from the village where Zamani Farms is located, called Kuru Jenta, on the way to Jos Airport Evidently the village has been set on fire and the Muslims in the village, including our workers some of whom are Muslims, have been surrounded and fear they are about to be executed. We have tried unsuccessfully to reach army and police authorities in Jos. Please, if any of you in Abuja have access to any authorities who can help stop this situation we would very much appreciate it.
The post was followed a few hours with an defeated sounding email post saying:
First of all, thanks to all of you who tried to help me rescue some of our staff and others in Kuru Jenta. I want to state that I have not yet been able to go to the farm to see for myself what is the situation, but have been in touch with some individuals by phone. According to reports, all of the Muslim houses in Kuru were burnt, and most of the Muslims were killed. Only a few are still alive. Although the person I spoke with (one of our farm staff) was naturally upset and a bit confused, he told me that he believed that except for himself, the other Muslim members of staff of the farm were all killed, along with many other inhabitants of the village.He along with his wife and children were injured but managed to escape, and at that point (this evening) he was attempting to walk through the bush to get to the Police Staff College, which he felt was the nearest place of refuge where they could be safe.
At Kuru, there was not a fight between groups, as had been the case in Jos. Muslim inhabitants were rounded up and shot or burnt in their houses. As I said, I have yet to see for myself, but I received the same report from both Muslim and Christian staff and have no reason to doubt its veracity. Only that I am not sure of the details of the exact number killed
A Human Rights Watch call for investigation posted today gives more details. All of the reports I have heard so far seem to indicate that the killings were carried out by armed invaders:
Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that groups of armed men attacked the largely Muslim population of Kuru Karama around 10 a.m. on January 19, 2010. After surrounding the town, they hunted down and attacked Muslim residents, some of whom had sought refuge in homes and a local mosque, killing many as they tried to flee and burning many others alive. The witnesses said they believed members of the armed groups to be Christians.
Community leaders from Jos and journalists who visited the town under military escort later in the week told Human Rights Watch that they saw bodies, including several charred corpses of young children and babies, strewn around town, including dozens stuffed down wells or in sewage pits. According to a Muslim official who visited the town to arrange for burial of the bodies, 121 have been recovered so far, including the bodies of 22 young children. The official told Human Rights Watch that corpses are still lodged in 16 wells. Journalists and community leaders who visited the town said that nearly all of the homes and the three main mosques were burned and destroyed.
One of the town’s Muslim imams wounded in the attack told Human Rights Watch that a Christian pastor tried to stop the attack but was beaten by the armed mob. There are conflicting reports of the police response. One witness reported that at least one police officer participated in the attack, while another said the police abandoned their post shortly before the violence began. Witnesses said the killings took place throughout the day, without police intervention to stop the violence, despite repeated calls to the police.
Human Rights Watch publishes eye witness reports from two witnesses:
A 32-year-old resident of Kuru Karama, described to Human Rights Watch what happened:
“Kuru is an old mining town. There are over 3,000 people who live in the community. When we heard that there was crisis in Jos [on Sunday], we went to the [local] Berom chief on Sunday and Monday, he said we should go back home, and go in peace. We went home and relaxed. On Tuesday [January 19] we sat down in the police station and [all] agreed that nothing would happen in the community. The three Muslim leaders were there; the three pastors were there; the chiefs of the Berom and Hausa were there. We then went home. After 15-20 minutes we saw people dropping [entering the town] from the mountains. They were Berom – the tribe of the governor. They were armed with cutlasses, guns, sticks, and bags of stones. It was not the Christians from our community but those from outside who came. Before they reached the area, we called the pastors who said it was none of their business.
I saw one policeman kill more than three people. This is not what I heard from people; I saw it with my own eyes. We were running away, and we met the policeman. He shot a small boy who fell on the ground, and we hid. We had only stones in our hands. He also killed a woman with a baby.
The children were running helter-skelter. The men were trying to protect the women. People who ran to the bush were killed. Some were burned in the mosque, and some went to the houses and were burned. We think 250-300 have been killed, including babies and children. My brother lost four of his children. I personally saw more than 20-30 bodies of children. Some were sliced into two from the head downward; others were burned; others were amputated. I saw a mother lying down and the baby lying next to her.
I am married with two children and one wife. I was waiting for her [my wife], I could not see her. I left Kuru after 12 midnight [early Wednesday morning]. I ran to neighboring villages. The next evening I saw her. She was wounded badly. The 11-month-old girl, they [the mobs] used an axe and cut her. They are both at the hospital.
I came back on Wednesday evening escorted by the military. I saw dead bodies everywhere. The corpses were there, but now you can just see the blood on the ground. None of the houses are standing. All the mosques were liquidated.”
A community leader who was in Kuru Karama the day of the massacre described to Human Rights Watch what he saw:
“Around 10 a.m. we started seeing people coming around and surrounding us. They said they will take our land, saying we are the non-indigenes. They started throwing stones, shooting bows and arrows, shooting guns; we tried to defend ourselves, but we had nothing.
After they started beating us and we ran back to the village, we started to gather our wives and children and put them in the central mosque because anyone who knows religion knows the mosque and church are safe places. We left a few people in the mosque and then went back to defend ourselves, but we couldn’t make it because we didn’t have anything to protect ourselves with, and we couldn’t run because they had surrounded us. So we had to just try to defend ourselves before they killed us. So along the way they were killing us. They were shooting us, hitting us with knives, burning us. They followed us; we went to another place, and they killed us. We were going round, and round, and round.
I saw what happened in the central mosque. They pursued us. They burned the mosque. They killed people in our presence. They burned the mosque with the women and children in it. There were over 100 bodies in the mosque – women and children. We couldn’t run away. All of us were wounded. They burned the whole village. There are 200-500 Muslim houses and they burned them all. The central mosque is a big mosque and was destroyed. They have killed almost 500 people. Some people ran to the bush and were killed. The dead bodies are in the wells, some in the soakaways. The fighting went on from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. They [the mobs] ran away and left at night.
I have three wives and four children. I saw the dead body of one wife; they had burned half of her. The remaining wives and my four children, I have not seen them. There are those who are burned to ashes, and you don’t know who is who.”
Other reports and reactions to this massacre can be found here:
Vanguard: Religious Renegades
Daily Trust: Norma farms proprietor sends distress message
Sunday Trust (24 Jan ’10): Jos Crisis: 150 bodies stuffed in wells in a village
[UPDATE 24 January 2009: Let me just note at this point, that, as a Christian, I find this an excrutiatingly painful thing–to see those who claim to be Christians carrying out massacres against fellow human beings created in God’s image. Anyone who knows the scriptures and words of Jesus, who even as one of his disciples tried to protect him against arrest by cutting off a man’s ear healed the wounded man and said: “Put your sword back in its place […] for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), will know that this sort of violence is blasphemy. This is a political/ethnic crisis that has much more to do with resources, identity, and belonging, than it does to do with religion, as this Human Rights Watch report case study on the indigene/settler politics in Nigeria might help explain. That said, I find very troubling the trend on other Christian websites I have seen spinning the story as one of “persecution” against Christians without acknowledging the other side of the story or admitting that there are those who claim to be Christians who are murdering, killing, and destroying. Rather than attempting to excuse reprisals against “those who started it,” we also must acknowledge, both as Christians and Muslims, that there are those who are using the names of our God to commit atrocities, and we must denounce them in the strongest possible terms. So I say: To those who kill and loot and politic and conspire and corrupt youth in God’s name, may He judge you with the same fire you used to burn the houses and bodies of innocent people. To those who preach hatred and prejudice and violence in God’s name, listen to the words of Jesus, who is venerated in both Christianity and Islam: Luke 17: 1-4, Matthew 7:15-23, Matthew 26:52,Matthew 23:13-39, John 3:19-21. For those who excuse attacks on those who are of a different religion or ethnicity because you think if you don’t strike first, they will persecute you: Matthew 18:21-22, Matthew 5:38-45, Luke 6:27-31, Matthew 10:24-31, John 13: 34-35,John 14:27. These are just a few selections of many more passages from the New Testament, which reflect a focus on the “fruits of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. To kill one’s neighbor in the name of Christ is a complete opposition to the whole meaning of Christianity [and although, as a Christian, I speak more knowledgeably about Christianity than Islam, and am here specifically talking about the atrocities committed by so-called “Christians”, here are a few links to sites about peace and love in Islam as well: Islamforpeace.org, Islam and World Peace: Explanations of a Sufi, A Book of God’s Love, The Necessity of Interfaith Dialogue: A Muslim Perspective, etc] , and to those who selectively defend an ideology of hate out of a few passages taken out of context, I think Jesus’s words in John 8:44 are appropriate: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” ]