NIGERIA – CHRISTIAN LEADERS CALL BAUCHI VIOLENCE PREMEDITATED ***

(Compass Direct News) – Christian leaders in Bauchi state said religious violence here sparked by a row over a billiards table on Jan. 27 bore signs that Muslim extremists were prepared for a large-scale slaughter of Christians. Initially authorities said only 18 people were killed after sectarian violence erupted in the areas of Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro, where there are large Christian populations in predominantly Muslim Bauchi state in northern Nigeria. Since then, estimates have ranged wildly from 25 to 96 people killed over a three-day period starting Jan. 27, with Christian leaders asserting that Muslim extremists used the billiards table incident as a pretext for unleashing attacks with a stockpile of weapons hidden in mosques. Christian leaders in Tafawa Balewa told Compass that the triggering incident – in which a Muslim was said to have burned a billiards table belonging to a Christian, prompting youths from Christian families to burn mosques and Muslim homes – led to the emergence of Muslim weapons caches and Islamist mercenaries. Islamists had made preparations for attacks in the areas with large Christian populations, the Christian leaders said, and were awaiting a pretext for carrying them out. The Rev. Ibrahim Ezekiel, pastor of the Church of Christ in Nigeria congregation in Maryam, a suburb of Tafawa Balewa, said that area Muslims “used a lot of weapons to attack our people.” Apart from the use of guns and other weapons to attack Christians, Ezekiel said area Islamists brought in Muslim mercenaries. “The Muslims have been attacking us, and the government of Bauchi state knows this,” Ezekiel said. “Yet the government has given these Muslims the backing to attack us. They want to exterminate the Christian communities here, and that is the reason they are supporting the attacks on us.”

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