Nigerian Baptists have asked for prayer following the latest interreligious violence that has left an estimated 500 people dead.

The president of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa, Motunrayo Adegbilero, has written to the Baptist World Alliance in the wake of riots in the city of Jos, asking “for prayer from the wider Baptist family for her country at this time,” Eron Henry, BWA associate director for communications told The Baptist Times.

“We will be responding, as we did in November 2008” when clashes between Muslims and Christians and the excessive use of force by security forces contributed to more than 700 deaths in Jos, which is the capital of Plateau State in Nigeria.

This time, fighting first broke out on Jan. 17 with followers of both Christianity and Islam each blaming gangs from the other’s community for sparking the violence.

Though accounts vary, it appears it was triggered by a dispute over a Muslim resident’s reconstruction of his home that had been burned down in the February 2008 riots.

Greg Anyating, Plateau State police commissioner, said a group of Muslim youth then stormed a Roman Catholic Church in Nasarawa Gwon. Muslim groups have accused Christian youths, who they say were preventing the Muslim from rebuilding his house, of starting the attacks.

However it started, the violence later spread to nearby towns and villages. Churches, mosques and houses were razed in four days. The violence was carried out by mobs of young men armed with guns, bows and arrows and machetes, according to reports provided to Human Rights Watch.

Anti-riot police and security forces were called in to quell the violence, and a 24-hour curfew was imposed. The curfew has now been relaxed, but around 18,000 people have been displaced, according to the Nigerian Red Cross.

Displaced people are living in makeshift camps in military and police barracks, mosques and churches all over Jos and its outskirts.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to take stronger steps to control sectarian violence.

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