By Ahmed Saka
Gunmen sprayed bullets from a moving van Monday night, killing ten people in a predominantly Christian town in a region beset by religious tensions, Nigeria's military said Tuesday.
The attackers were speeding along a road leading to the airport in Plateau state, said Capt. Salisu Mustapha, the spokesman for a special military and police force deployed to the area in central Nigeria two years ago to stop communal violence. He said eight victims died on the spot and two others died in a hospital.
Mark Lipdo, head of the Stefanos Foundation, a Christian advocacy group, said witnesses told him the assailants wore military uniforms.
Violence between Christians and Muslims has killed hundreds in the state in recent years and both communities have accused security authorities of taking sides. However, Mustapha denied any military involvement.
"You can get camouflage clothes from the market and criminals have worn uniforms in the past to carry out their attacks," Mustapha said. "Nothing connects the army with these killings."
Neither the army nor the police said whether they suspected any particular group and there was no claim of responsibility Tuesday.
The rise of a more sophisticated northern-based Islamist insurgency known as Boko Haram, held responsible for more than 760 deaths this year alone, according to an Associated Press count, has added a new dimension to the long-running conflict.
Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people, is evenly divided between a mainly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north. Plateau state is located in the "middle belt," at the meeting point of these two regions.
Human Rights Watch said at least 1,000 people were killed in communal clashes in the state in 2010.