JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Raiders armed with machetes killed the family of a Nigerian Christian priest and set fire to his church in central Plateau state on Saturday, close to where hundreds have died in religious violence this year.
Residents said unknown assailants attacked the family of Rev. Nuhu Dawat in the early hours in the farming village of Mazah, around 12 km (7 miles) from the state capital of Jos, killing his wife, two children and grandson.
Dawat himself ran and hid when the attack occurred and was the sole survivor in his household. “I leave everything to God to judge,” a sobbing Dawat told Reuters.
At least four other people were also killed in the attack, a military spokesman said. A Reuters witness said many of the bodies were slashed with what appeared to be machete blows and one was burned beyond recognition.
Military and police patrols have brought the situation under control and the violence has not spread to other villages, said Plateau State Police Commissioner Gregory Anyating.
“We are trying to find out the root causes of the violence,” Anyating said. “We have not re-imposed the curfew.”
Plateau state government lifted a night-time curfew for Jos and surrounding villages in May. It had first been imposed in November 2008 during post-election violence in Jos but was extended in January following clashes between Christian and Muslim gangs.
The federal authorities deployed troops to Jos after hundreds of people died in January but the military presence and curfew were not enough to prevent further outbreaks of violence in March and April, in which hundreds more people died.
Over the past decade, thousands of people have died in religious and ethnic violence in the “Middle Belt” of central Nigeria, where the Muslim north meets the predominantly Christian south.
The tension is rooted in decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands and for economic and political power with migrants and settlers from the north.
President Goodluck Jonathan has said ensuring peace and stability is a priority.
But analysts fear local political rivals may seek to exploit the divisions in Plateau state in the run-up to nationwide elections due by next April.