LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) – A top police official and three others have died in a police helicopter crash in central Nigeria after patrolling one of the country’s religious flashpoints, police said Wednesday.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Haruna John, who led national police operations, died in Wednesday’s crash in a residential neighborhood of Jos, said national police spokesman Yemi Ajayi.
John had been carrying out a routine aerial patrol over Jos and was headed back to the capital of Abuja with Chief Superintendent Alexander Pwol-Ja, Sgt. Sonatiam Shirunam and Assistant Commissioner Garba Yalwa, the helicopter’s pilot.
President Goodluck Jonathan urged the grieving families in a press statement “to take consolation in the fact that these fine officers died in the course of national assignment.”
Police say they will investigate the crash.
The helicopter crashed into homes, said Yushau Shuaib, the national spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency, but no one was hurt.
Jos had long been a religious flashpoint before finding relative calm over the last year. After a suicide car-bombing last Sunday of a Catholic church killed four people and wounded 38, many fear religious violence will again take hold of the area. Already, by Sunday night, six more people had died in retaliatory violence, despite a strong military presence in the city.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombing although blame fell on the radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram, which has targeted the city before. The sect claimed a series of bombings in Jos on Christmas Eve in 2010 that killed as many as 80 people. The sect also claimed a similar church bombing on Feb. 26 on the main headquarters of the Church of Christ that killed three people and wounded 38 others.
Even before the sect attacks, Jos and surrounding areas in Plateau state had been torn apart by communal violence pitting its different ethnic groups and major religions _ Christianity and Islam _ against each other. Human Rights Watch has said at least 1,000 people were killed in communal clashes around Jos in 2010.
The violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands. Muslims in the city also say they are locked out of lucrative jobs in the region as the Christian-led state government doesn’t recognize them as citizens.
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