Nigerian security forces sought to restore calm in parts of the country's north Thursday after fresh clashes rocked an area already under curfew following days of violence that left 106 people dead.
The new clashes late Wednesday between Christians and Muslims hit areas in and around the city of Kaduna, leaving at least five people dead, according to residents. Police confirmed more rioting, but did not provide casualty figures.
Factors said to have led to the new clashes included the circulation of inciteful SMS messages, an argument at a market that escalated into violence and residents' reactions after claiming the mangled bodies of relatives.
"The clashes started from unfounded rumours being bandied about on text messages of attacks and counter-attacks in the city, which provoked so much sentiment," said police spokesman Aminu Lawan.
Kaduna state, where the violence began on Sunday, remained under a round-the-clock curfew as troops and police patrolled the area.
Kaduna city, the capital of the state of the same name, is a major city in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north and has a large Christian population.
"Soldiers and policemen have deployed in the town, but five people have already been killed in the violence on both sides," said a resident of Kujama, outside of Kaduna. "I saw five dead bodies from the clash."
The 24-hour curfew was however relaxed in the northeastern city of Damaturu, where clashes between security forces and suspected Islamists Monday and Tuesday killed at least 40 and stranded residents unable to return home or access food.
Damaturu residents will now be allowed to move around between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, the state government announced.
The violence has sparked fears of further reprisals and wider conflict in the country of some 160 million people, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
Frustration over the government's inability to stop attacks by Islamist group Boko Haram, whose insurgency has killed hundreds, has led to warnings that there could be more cases of residents taking the law into their own hands.
This week's violence began on Sunday with suicide attacks at three churches in Kaduna state, which left at least 16 people dead and sparked reprisals by Christian mobs who burned mosques and targeted Muslims, killing dozens.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the church attacks.
While a curfew and heavy security patrols stopped rioting that broke out on Sunday, flare-ups hit the area in the days after.
Separately on Monday and Tuesday, gun battles broke out between suspected Boko Haram members and security forces in Damaturu, previously hit by heavy violence blamed on the Islamists.
Government officials were said to be consulting with religious leaders in Kaduna in an effort to ease tensions.
"We are talking both of conventional law enforcement strategies as well as what I would call a soft approach to conflict resolution," said national police spokesman Frank Mba.
He said that meant "engaging with stakeholders in the community, the Kaduna state government, the local government authorities, religious leaders on both sides as well as Islamic leaders."
Shehu Sani, a prominent rights activist based in Kaduna, said tensions had risen again on Wednesday night after residents claimed relatives' bodies.
"What caused the latest flare-up last night was the dead bodies that were brought in for burial from different places from where they had been killed," he said.
"People became infuriated by the number of bodies being brought in. The sight of stabbed and burnt bodies of victims brought for burial further angered both sides."
Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 people in Africa's most populous country and largest oil producer since mid-2009.© ANP/AFP