LAGOS (AFP) – A ten-year-old boy was on Tuesday killed when an assailant fired a heavy weapon at an Islamic school in the city of Jos, an area plagued by sectarian violence, officials and residents said.
Witnesses described a man dressed in red firing what appeared to be a rocket launcher at the school in the Bukuru area of Jos. Initial reports had suggested a local government building was the target.
“An Islamic school was the target of the attack,” said Pam Ayuba, the spokesman for the governor of Plateau State, where Jos is the capital.
Police spokesman Emmanuel Abuh said the assailant fired a “rocket propelled grenade” from the Jero road that runs adjacent to the school.
“A 10-year-old boy was hit on the head… and he died,” said Abuh, adding that the attacker fled the scene before he could be apprehended.
The victim was said to be a bystander and not enrolled at the school where students were studying for exams when they came under attack, according to locals.
A resident of the targeted area said a lone attacker “dressed in red” stood on the street outside the school and fired a heavy weapon.
“The missile deflected and hit the wall of the school, killing (the young person),” resident Murtala Abdullahi told AFP.
Nurul Islam is a seminary in Jos’s Kerana neighbourhood that combines both secular, Western-style education with an Islamic curriculum.
Two weeks ago, a bomb was discovered on its premises which was defused before it exploded, Abdullahi and other residents said.
Ayuba charged that the “attack is a deliberate effort to distract the security services.”
Tension is high in Plateau state after the military said it planned to launch campaigns to root out gunmen suspected of belonging to a mainly Muslim group of herdsmen accused of killing more than 100 people earlier this month.
On July 7, gunmen suspected of belonging to the Fulani tribe stormed mainly Christian villages and killed more than 80 people.
Another 22 people, including two senior politicians, were killed the following day in an attack on the funeral of the previous day’s victims. The graveyard raid was also blamed on the Fulani.
Mustapha told AFP on Monday that hundreds have reportedly fled from several areas expected to be targeted by the imminent military operations.
Fulani pastoralists have long-standing grievances against Plateau state’s mainly Christian leaders, including disputes over land rights and claims of discrimination.
Jos has also been attacked several times by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram, responsible for scores of attacks across northern and central Nigeria since the middle of 2009.
Aside from inter-communal violence involving the Fulani, Jos has for several years seen sporadic clashes between Muslim and Christian groups, which have left thousands dead.
Plateau state is in Nigeria’s so-called “Middle Belt,” on the dividing line between the mainly Christian south and majority Muslim north in Africa’s most populous country.
Amid the security crisis, political and security leaders, including Governor Jonah Jang, held a meeting in Jos on Monday.
They declared “that Plateau state is under siege” in a statement issued after the talks and said more dialogue between key leaders of both dominant faiths was needed to stem the violence.