DAKAR, Senegal — Officials and human rights groups in Nigeria sharply increased the count of the dead after a weekend of vicious ethnic violence, saying Monday that as many as 500 people — many of them women and children — may have been killed near the central city of Jos, long a flashpoint for tensions between Christians and Muslims.
The dead were Christians and members of an ethnic group that has been feuding with the Hausa Fulani, Muslim herders who witnesses and police officials identified as the attackers. Officials said the attack was a reprisal for violence in January, when dozens of Muslims were slaughtered in and around Jos, including more than 150 in a single village.
Early Sunday, the attackers set upon the villagers with machetes, killing women and children in their homes and ensnaring the men who tried to flee in fishnets and animal traps, then massacring them, according to a Nigerian rights group whose investigators went to the area. Some homes were set on fire.
The latest attacks were “a sort of vengeance from the Hausa Fulani,” said the Rev. Emmanuel Joel, of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Jos.
After the January attacks, “the military watched over the city, and neglected the villages,” he said. The attackers, said Joel, “began to massacre as early as 4 a.m. They began to slaughter the people like animals.”
The police said Monday that they had made 95 arrests, including a number of Hausa Fulani. The clothes of many of the suspects were blood-stained, said Mohammed Larema, a police spokesman in Plateau state.
The mood in Jos was tense Monday, as troops were deployed in the streets, shops closed early, and residents remained indoors. A few miles south of the city nearly 400 of the victims were buried in a mass grave in Dogon Na Hauwa, the village that was the site of the worst violence. Some of the bodies had been mutilated.
There, women cried unconsolably amid crowds of mourners, and the thick smell of burnt and decomposing flesh hung in the air. Officials meanwhile combed a large area around the village, continuing to find bodies of victims during the day.
Shehu Sani of the Nigerian Civil Rights Congress said in a telephone interview on Monday that members of his organization had counted 492 bodies, mainly in Dogon Na Hauwa. He said that security forces had not been much in evidence in the “vulnerable areas” south of Jos.