Nigeria denies Islamists caused funeral carnage
7/10/2012 3:10:04 PM -
KANO, Nigeria (AFP) - Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists on Tuesday claimed weekend attacks in central Plateau state that killed more than 100 people, but police insisted another group was responsible.
On Saturday gunmen stormed several Christian villages in the religiously divided state's Riyom area, killing more than 80 people.
The following day, assailants shot up the graveyard in the Barkin Ladi district where some of the victims of the previous day's violence were being buried, killing at least 22 people, including two prominent politicians.
Police dismissed the Islamists' claim, saying those responsible for both assaults were Fulani herdsmen, a majority Muslim group with long-standing land rights grievances against the state's mainly Christian leaders.
Boko Haram has in the past claimed killings widely thought to have been carried out by another group, in an effort to boost its stature.
In a statement issued by purported spokesman Abul Qaqa, Boko Haram said it "wants to inform the world of its delight over the success of the attacks we launched... in Plateau state on Christians and security operatives, including members of the National Assembly".
The statement said the Islamists carried out the attacks both in "Barkin Ladi and Riyom."
Among those murdered at the graveyard were federal senator Gyang Dantong and the majority leader of Plateau state's legislature Gyang Fulani, both said to be Christian.
"We will continue to hunt for government officials wherever they are; they will have no peace again," said the statement from the Islamist group that has carried out waves of assaults in northern and central Nigeria.
A police source in Plateau, who requested anonymity, told AFP on Tuesday that "if Boko Haram were involved, it is because the Fulani invited them to take part".
"Suspected Fulani are the ones that carried out that attack. That is the opinion of police," said the source, who specified that the pastoralists were responsible for both the Saturday and Sunday violence.
Fulani herdsmen, of Hausa-Muslim ethnicity, are seen as "settlers" by the Christian ethnic groups that dominate power in Plateau state, even though the Fulani have been there for decades.
Policies that favour indigenous Christian groups when it comes to such issues as patronage, jobs and land have created animosity, and sparked flashes of violence, some of it directed against the Fulani themselves.
Plateau state falls in Nigeria's so-called "Middle Belt," where the mainly Christian south meets the majority Muslim north, and has been the site of waves of sectarian violence in recent years.
In January, Boko Haram claimed the murder of 17 Christian traders in the northeastern Adamawa state, which police later concluded was the result of an inter-communal conflict.
The Islamist group has killed more than 1,000 people since mid-2009 in Africa's most populous nation and top oil producer.
Boko Haram on Tuesday threatened to again strike Kano, Nigeria's second largest city and site of their deadliest attack yet, a January 20 raid that left at least 185 people dead.