Despite these signs of increasing tension, the extent of the violence and the speed with which it engulfed the city from September 7 appeared to take everyone by surprise. Even residents of Jos who had predicted an explosion had not imagined it would take on such proportions. One man told Human Rights Watch: "This thing we thought was a joke suddenly turned into a full war situation." By September 8, pitched battles were being fought between Christians and Muslim youths along improvised front lines, and the violence that had begun in the center of town quickly spread to the outskirts and outlying areas.
Most people interviewed by Human Rights Watch believed that the violence must have been organized in advance; they pointed to the speed with which it spread across the town and the type and number of weapons used (including widespread use of guns) as evidence of its planned nature. On the basis of its own research, Human Rights Watch believes that some level of planning was likely, but that the violence then took on a life of its own and spun out of control, as groups of primarily young men on both sides of the religious and ethnic divide retaliated and sought to avenge real or rumored attacks by those perceived as their "enemies," often ignoring appeals for restraint by their community leaders. There were reports of youths destroying buildings and houses of the opposing faith after hearing rumors-some of which later turned out to be false-that their own communities or areas had been attacked. At times the chaos and speed of events was such that people did not know who was fighting whom. Overall, eye-witness accounts did not point to any clear chain of command at the time of the attacks, although they reported that some assailants were explicitly encouraging others to fight.
The specific incident that sparked off the violence occurred outside a mosque in the area of Jos known as Congo Russia. On Friday, September 7, a young Christian woman tried to cross the road through a congregation of Muslims outside the mosque. She was asked to wait until prayers had finished or to choose another route, but she refused and an argument developed between her and some members of the congregation. Within minutes, the argument had unleashed a violent battle between groups of Christians who appeared at the scene and Muslims who had been praying at the mosque or who happened to be in the neighborhood.
A teacher who was in the congregation at the time described what happened:17
On that Friday I was in the congregation at the mosque. I was sitting outside. I noticed a girl, about twenty years old, who was talking with someone who was blocking her way. They were just talking, not shouting. The girl then raised her voice and accused the man of refusing to let her pass. He showed her another route she could take. She insisted that she must go through the congregation. He let her through. When the imam was about to start the sermon, she returned the same way, insisting that she must pass again. The attendant asked her why she needed to pass again. He said the sermon was about to start and she could go the other way. She said: "Who are you to stop me passing? No one will stop me." Then they started arguing. She was abusing the attendant. I heard their conversation. Two men who were the girl's neighbors took her to one side to calm her down and explained that the attendant was just doing his duty and she should wait until the end of the prayer. She didn't listen and started shouting. She picked up a stone as if to throw it and said: "Who are you to stop me? Even if I kill you, nothing will happen." A young man intervened and got angry. He went towards her to take the stone from her. He grabbed her hand, there was a tussle and he slapped her. She shouted.
Then a group of about twenty or thirty youths came out from between the houses, holding stones, sticks, bows and arrows. They started attacking cars and people. A man in the congregation was hit in the shoulder with an arrow. He was the first victim. Car windows were smashed. It was chaos.
The imam was asking people to keep calm. Some members of the congregation stood up. The imam and others tried to control them and started reciting prayers. Outside the mosque people in the first ten rows placed tables to block the advance of the youths. The rest of the congregation was still praying. When the prayers were finished, the situation got out of control. I went home. I later heard that another man, Anagogo, who is in his fifties, was hit in the head. His was the first death. He is physically handicapped so he couldn't run away.
The youths who attacked were mainly from the Congo area. They looked like street boys, not like responsible people. Some were teenagers, others were in their twenties. They were wearing shorts and singlets. They didn't have guns. I don't know whether it was organized, but they all came out when the girl shouted.
The previous week, the same girl had come and done the same thing. The attendant had allowed her to pass. He told me that this was in fact the third week running that she had tried to pass through the congregation on a Friday.
As I was leaving the mosque, I passed another mosque on Bauchi Road. The congregation was dispersing after prayers. As they passed the bridge they saw the commotion around the Congo mosque. Some of the youths ran to the original crisis point. By the time I reached my house, I had already seen three dead bodies, within just a few meters. A car and a motorbike were burnt in front of my house. Youths came in from other neighborhoods and were breaking into shops and looting. They put all the objects in the main road and set them on fire.
From my house I have a clear view of the mosque. That same Friday at 8 p.m., I heard shouting. I looked out from upstairs. There was a clash between Christians and Muslims. They were throwing petrol bombs. I also heard a gun-I don't know from which side. This carried on until 11 p.m. There were no police or soldiers. Someone climbed the minaret and was trying to break the railing on the mosque. He broke the zinc off the rooftop and called for fire. He was given fire and set the mosque ablaze, as well as neighboring houses.
At about midnight I saw a military vehicle; a group of soldiers stopped in front of my house. I heard the soldiers say: "In five minutes, everyone must be inside their house or we'll start shooting." But then they just left. So people came back out and the rampage continued until about 1 a.m. My neighbors came to stay in my house because their house was burnt. I saw fire further away in the night, in different areas.
Many people were killed later. There was heavy rain and bodies were floating in the river. I saw them the next day and about one week later. Eight days later, I saw two dead bodies in the river behind the mosque. Some dead bodies were set ablaze. Some people were killed then their bodies were put in cars and burnt.
One of my friends, Abdul Ra'uf, a young man, is still missing. I just saw the remains of his vehicle. We have told his wife she should prepare to live as a widow. We don't know what happened to him.
The leader of the mosque at Congo Junction gave his own account of what happened:18
On September 7, at about 1.40 p.m., I went to the mosque. I noticed three or four Christian youths coming out. They shook their heads then went away; maybe they thought there weren't enough Muslims there yet. About ten or fifteen minutes later, they came out again; I could see them from inside. By that time, the attendance at the mosque was higher. Then I heard some noise outside. I asked what was happening. I was told that a woman was trying to cross the line. I spoke into the loudspeaker and said she should be allowed to pass. The woman was shouting. Then I saw members of the congregation throwing arrows and stones. I asked them to stop but they wouldn't. Christians also came, throwing arrows and carrying spears.
When the prayers ended, I came out. I saw a boy from the congregation, Abdulrahman, a young man of about twenty years old, who had been shot in the shoulder with an arrow. He was taken to the central mosque; they later removed the arrow and he survived. But another man, Osman Anagogo, died. He was attacked with a spear and cutlasses.
Non-Muslims started burning houses, burning the mosque and killing people, using bows and arrows, stones and spears. They were young boys and men. One man tried to kill Alhaji Garba with a cutlass and a machete. Then Muslims started attacking in revenge.
From that moment onwards, the fighting spread uncontrollably. According to testimonies from different parts of the town, the violence raged from Friday, September 7 to Monday, September 10. After a brief lull, it flared up again on Wednesday, September 12, with further killings and destruction.19 By Thursday, September 13, when the fighting ceased, hundreds of people had been killed, many others were missing, and thousands of homes, buildings, and other property had been destroyed.
Most of the perpetrators were young men, armed with a variety of weapons including sticks, bows and arrows, petrol-bombs, knives, machetes, and guns (both locally-made guns and guns believed to belong to retired soldiers). They set up roadblocks all over the town, allowing people to pass if they were of their own faith and stopping and attacking those of the opposite faith. People were targeted clearly on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. A Christian man who was stopped at a Muslim roadblock told how Muslim youths were encouraging each other to pick out as many Christians as possible, as if it were a kind of competition to see who could kill the most Christians. A Muslim leader was stopped by about eighteen Christian youths armed with sticks and machetes who were shouting "Useless Muslim!" and "Useless Hausa man!" at another Muslim ahead of him.20 In some areas, Christians and Muslims set up joint patrols in a bid to limit the spread of violence, but it became difficult to maintain these once the fighting had escalated.
Most of the victims were men, but there were also women and children among the casualties. There were reports that in some cases, entire families were killed in their homes. A witness told Human Rights Watch that one house had been burnt with fourteen people inside, another with nine. Age was not always a protection. A man in his seventies was attacked once in the morning and initially spared because of his age. The same evening, he went to the mosque and called people to prayer. Later, a group of people entered his house and killed him and his children before setting fire to the house. Hajia Dada Sangei, a woman aged about ninety, was killed in Riyom, along with several other members of the family, including a thirteen-year-old boy. Alhaji Baba Wase, aged about eighty, was dragged out behind his house in Busa Buji and killed with guns and machetes on September 8; the attackers then set about destroying his house.21
While most of the victims were targeted on the basis of their religion, some people-including members of the same ethnic group or religion-used the chaos as an opportunity to settle scores and exact revenge on personal foes. Human Rights Watch was told of several cases where individuals suspected they were specifically sought out. One man whose house and car were burnt believed he was singled out because the attackers used his nickname which is only known to those close to him. In another case, attackers came to the house of a wealthy businessman; when the owner came out of the house, the attackers asked him where he was, by name, without realizing it was him, presumably because they had been sent to find him.22
At the time of writing, the total number of victims and the relative proportions of Christians and Muslims have still not been established. Various factors have hindered efforts to establish an accurate count or list of victims. The perpetrators burned many of their victims' bodies, some beyond recognition; many bodies were buried in mass graves or removed by soldiers from where they lay along the roads or in gutters before there had been time to identify them; and of the thousands who fled or were displaced by the violence, some have not yet returned. All those interviewed by Human Rights Watch believed that several hundred people, and probably more than 1,000, had been killed. Some put the figure between 1,000 and 2,000. Local human rights groups who began their investigations as soon as the violence began had reached a figure of around 1,000 by Monday, September 1023 - a total which excludes further killings that took place on Wednesday, September 12.
Saturday, September 8 was described by some witnesses as the fiercest day. A Christian woman who lived on a street bordering the predominantly Christian area of Apata and the mixed Christian-Muslim area of Ali Kazaure described the sequence of events there:24
On Friday [...] as I was heading home, I ran into the confusion. Everyone was running. On Apata Street, at about 4 p.m., tires were being burnt and young men had barricaded the streets. I managed to get home. Later at night, tires were still burning. The nursery school behind my house, which belongs to Muslim women, was destroyed. They made a bonfire with the seats from the school. Church bells were ringing and there were Muslim calls to prayer throughout the night. But there were no killings in my area on Friday.
On Saturday morning I thought it would be quieter. Little did I know it would be the day of bloodshed. In my own area houses were being burnt and people were being killed. Almost all non-Christians were killed on the street. I was watching from my house. They were shouting: "Here's one of them!" There were lots of groups going around. I witnessed one person being killed with a stick or club and stones, and firewood; one of the attackers also had a long knife.
Muslim youths from Angwan Rogo came to Ali Kazaure. They set fire to the Fatima Catholic Cathedral near our house. They had guns and petrol bombs in bottles.
Youths from Apata were fighting those from across the street. When the Muslims came with guns, most of them ran away. Some Christians then also got guns and launched a counter-attack. In Ali Kazaure both Christian and Muslim houses were burnt. There was a battleground in the middle. In Apata, most of the houses burnt were Muslim.
In Angwan Rogo, my cousin was macheted to death and the family house demolished. Some Muslims took our surviving relatives into their house to protect them. My elder brother and his family would also have been killed if a Muslim family hadn't saved them.
At least ten people were killed on my street, outside. I saw it with my own eyes. The victims were all men, mostly young or middle-aged.
There was hunger everywhere. Markets and shops were closed. People were fighting to buy bread in our local bakery.
By Sunday, the killings in my street had stopped. There was an uneasy calm from Sunday to Tuesday. On Wednesday it erupted again. There were three deaths on the street. The victims who were probably Muslims were killed and burnt in their car, within just two hours.
At Evangel Hospital I saw a girl in her twenties who had gone into a state of shock after seeing someone beheaded. She never came out of the shock. The hospital staff told me she died a few days later.
23 This figure is based on statistics collected from Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), Plateau State Hospital, several mosques (including the central mosque in Jos) and various burial sites, by the NGOs Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Centre for Community Action and Participation (CAPP) and the Christian Foundation for Social Justice and Equality.