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Nigerian Army Patrols City After Saturday Riots

In Nigeria, the army is said to be maintaining a tense calm in the northern city of Maiduguri today. This, after at least 24 people were killed -- and 230 wounded -- in weekend rioting over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims went on a rampage Saturday, attacking Christians and burning churches and shops owned by Christians before troops and police restored order.

Yesterday, the secretary general of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Lateef Adegbite, appealed to Christians not to retaliate, saying the riot was a misguided adventure by Muslims who acted against the tenets of Islam. The Maiduguri riot was the latest outbreak of Muslim anger over cartoons originally published in a Danish newspaper last year. Many Muslims believe any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous.

Tony Icheku is the Maiduguri correspondent for the daily Sun newspaper. He told Voice of America reporter William Eagle that there’s calm, with the military patrolling the streets, but also apprehension: “Everywhere there is evidence of destruction…. Whole church premises [and businesses] were destroyed -- most owned by Christians and people from the southeastern part of the country. There is fear because people do not know what is going to happen next. The army…is [fully armed and] patrolling around the city…. Most businesses are closed. It’s like a holiday here. “

Icheku says the Borno State branch of the Nigerian Christian Association warned the police on February 14th about a likely protest – and violence -- on Saturday. He also said that the violence spread from a public lecture on the “Personality of the Prophet Mohammed” by the Borno Muslim Forum, given at 10 am Saturday at Ramat Square in Maiduguri.

The Nigerian Christian Association says there was insufficient security at the event, where the Danish cartoon controversy was likely to be discussed. Also, Icheku says authorities were not seen for three hours after the violence began – and it’s for this reason that the Christian Association is calling on the federal government to remove the Bornu State commissioner of police, Alhaji Abubakar Mohammed, and the state director of the security service, Ruben Amaro. The police commissioner told journalists there is no proof that anyone informed them of potential violence. The director of the Security Services has not yet commented.

Icheku says the Borno state governor Ali Modu Sheriff has blamed hooligans for the violence, and says the incident was not aimed at Christians or southeasterners. He says some of those killed were Muslims, and some of the property destroyed belong to Muslims as well.