New Prophet Muhammad cartoon riots kill Christians in Nigeria

As religious violence breaks out again in Nigeria in a row over cartoons of Mohammed, a Christian student has been describing how he had to run for his life after being accused of drawing of the Muslim prophet Muhammed.

According to reports from Kano State, at least nine Christians were killed and churches, businesses and homes were burned after rumours that Christians had drawn a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed and displayed it on a wall of a mosque. Under Islam any depiction of God or Mohammed is considered blasphemous.

The incident echoes the uproar in Nigeria that followed the publication of the Danish Mohammed cartoons in 2006, which claimed scores of lives and triggered Muslim protests worldwide.

Release International, an organisation reaching out to persecuted Christians, is providing relief aid to Christians who have been driven from their homes.

According to reports, rioting Muslim youths in Tundun Wada, Kano State, caused widespread damage to Christian property in the area, forcing the authorities to evacuate Christians and non-Muslims to neighbouring Bauchi State.

Secondary school student IIiya Adamu and his roommate barely escaped with their lives, RI has been told, after being accused of drawing a picture of Mohammed.

RI has said IIiya was in his room at the hostel on September 28 getting ready for school, when Muslim students burst into his room.

IIiya told Release International partners: "They started beating me. I asked what I did but they shouted me down. They pounced on my roommate and began to beat him. A teacher walked in and asked what is happening. They said to go and see what the Christians did at the mosque.

"Their reason for beating us, they said, was because we drew something. None of us had seen what they were talking about until we later heard that a picture of Mohammed was drawn with these words 'This is your God'. They concluded that we, the Christians students, must have drawn it."

He continued: "'We ran to the principal's office, and were taken to the hospital. As we were about to be given first aid, we saw some of the Muslim students and other boys coming into the hospital with machetes. We then decided to run for our lives. We climbed the fences and escaped.

"They were all after us. None of us went home because we saw smoke from the distance and people running."

IIiya and his roommate both deny drawing any pictures of Mohammed, and they are being helped by Release International's Nigerian partners The Stefanos Foundation.

Release International is providing food, blankets and clothing to 121 Christians whose houses have been destroyed. The homeless include Christian policemen and women.

What sparked the rioting is still uncertain. As well as the suggestion that a cartoon was pinned to a mosque, other sources say a Christian youth wrote the name Jesus on a school blackboard, or that the riot erupted after mounting tensions over a newspaper cartoon published in Bangladesh which was considered offensive to Islam.

"If nine people can be murdered on a rumour, it just illustrates how volatile the situation is for Christians in parts of Nigeria," says Release International's CEO Andy Dipper. "We are providing help and support for the Christians who have been displaced and ask you to join with us in praying that this does not erupt into a widespread attack against Christians."

There have been reports that Muslim students plan to attack Christians in the Kuma area of Kano at the end of Ramadan. To prevent the current tension escalating, the Christian Association of Nigeria is calling for government intervention. More than 2000 Christians were killed in a previous outbreak of violence in Kano State in 2004.

Release International in partnership with Christian Solidarity Worldwide has just completed a major TV documentary on Nigeria, focusing on the aftermath of the Danish cartoon riots which claimed the lives of 65 Christians in Maiduguri.

The documentary, The Remains of the Day, provides moving examples of forgiveness and grace under extreme pressure.

Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries, supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families, as well as supplying Christian literature and Bibles.

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