KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Clashes between Christian and Muslim youths in Nigeria’s eastern Taraba state killed more than 15 people, the police said on Monday, and the final death toll could be much higher.
Fighting began between two groups over the use of a football pitch on Saturday in the Wakari district and escalated into deadly violence in nearby villages.
Fighting between religious groups in the country of 160 million, split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims, can quickly spiral out of control in remote regions with little security presence. In some cases hundreds have been killed in days of tit-for-tat attacks.
“Over 15 people were killed in a clash between two football teams. The clash started from a football pitch between two players and escalated into the community on community violence,” Taraba State Police Spokesman Amos Olaye told Reuters.
A state emergency services official, who asked not to be named, said he thought at least 50 people had been killed.
“Yes, the death toll is on the high side and is still rising as security men are just discovering more bodies from the houses,” said Kefas John, secretary to the Taraba Governor, declining to give a death toll.
Taraba has been mostly spared from attacks by Islamist sect Boko Haram, which have led to the deaths of thousands since an uprising in northeastern Borno state in 2009.
Boko Haram wants to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria and the group poses the biggest risk to stability in Africa’s largest oil producer.
Six people were killed by suspected Boko Haram gunmen in northeast Yobe state on Saturday, military spokesman Lazarus Elias said, in a region frequently targeted by the sect.
A policeman and four others playing cards were shot dead in neighboring Gombe state on Friday evening, a police spokesman said. Gambling is considered forbidden by some Islamist groups.
Police killed two gunmen who opened fire on them when they were screening people entering a bus in the largest northern city Kano on Saturday, police spokesman Ikedici Iweha said.
Also on Saturday, gunmen killed six people when they stormed a mostly Christian village in Kaduna state, witnesses said.
Additional reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza in Maiduguri and Chukwuemeka Madu in Kano; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Louise Ireland