KANO, Nigeria (AFP) - A mispronunciation taken to be blasphemous in Nigeria's north sparked a riot by Muslim youths Thursday, leaving four people dead as well as a church and shops burnt, police and residents said.
"What happened in (the town of) Bichi was misinformation," Kano state police chief Ibrahim Idris told reporters. "Rumours went round that someone blasphemed the Prophet and there was a breakdown of law and order."
Residents reported four people dead along with the church and Christian-owned shops burnt.
The riot came on the same day that former British prime minister Tony Blair and the incoming spiritual head of the world's Anglicans Justin Welby launched an initiative in the Nigerian capital Abuja aimed at Muslim-Christian reconciliation.
According to Idris, a Christian tailor mispronounced the name of a dress while chatting with his Muslim neighbour in Hausa, the major language spoken in the north, changing the meaning to 'the Prophet has come to the market'.
Idris however denied anyone was killed, though residents spoke of the deaths. Bichi is located some 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Kano, the largest city in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.
"Four Igbos were killed in the attacks. One of them was thrown into a ditch near my house," one resident said, referring to a mainly Christian ethnic group.
"Scores of shops owned by Christians and a church were burnt by a large mob of Muslim youth who set bonfires on the road and disrupted traffic."
Another resident said he saw four dead bodies "hacked with machetes by the rioters".
Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer. The 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Religious and ethnic tensions in the country regularly lead to outbreaks of violence.