A Nigeria Police stand guard as suspected rioters await a court hearing in Kaduna, Nigeria, Wednesday, April 20, 2011. About 200 people were arraignedhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110420/ap_on_re_af/af_nigeria_election

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press Jon Gambrell, Associated Press 53 mins ago

KADUNA, Nigeria – In the time it took to raise a machete or shout the name of a political party, neighbors again became enemies over politics split along religious lines in northern Nigeria. At least 70 people died this week after Muslim mobs targeted supporters of the oil-rich nation’s ruling party, while retaliatory attacks by Christians followed with a startling speed.

Those who survived almost uniformly said they did not know their attackers, though many looked away or quickly changed the subject as their homes lie in smoldered ruins. Others displayed incredible bravery, risking their own lives to rescue those of a different faith.

About 40,000 have now fled their homes, and it remains unclear whether some will return to their damaged homes to live among the very same people who wanted them dead. The town of Kaduna has seen spasms of sectarian violence over the last decade that have left more than 2,000 dead.

“It shows you how heartless human beings can be,” said Nathan Isaac, a 23-year-old student who was visiting a hospital treating the wounded.

The rioting began Sunday across Nigeria’s Muslim north, as early election results showed President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the nation’s south, with an insurmountable lead over Muslim opposition candidate and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. Muslim rioters overwhelmed police and burned homes, churches and police stations. Christians began reprisal attacks soon after.

Patient Idris Ibrahim said he tried to outrun an angry mob that shouted the ruling party’s acronym. They overcame him, leaving gaping machete wounds to his back. They only left him after nearly severing his left hand, presuming he would die on the road. Then a Christian put Ibrahim, who is Muslim, inside a car and brought him to the hospital.

“I hid face down in the car,” Ibrahim said in the local Hausa language.

And the Rev. Habila Sunday said he was saved from angry mob in Kano who threatened to stab him by a Muslim man who told the crowd: “Before you kill him, you must kill me.” The stranger helped him hide for hours and provided him a phone to call for rescue.

Buhari has called the violence “sad, unfortunate and totally unwarranted” and urged his supporters to refrain from attacks. However, he continues to claim that Saturday’s election, which observers call one of Nigeria’s best, suffered from massive rigging by the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

“It is wrong for you to allow miscreants to infiltrate your ranks and perpetrate such dastardly acts as the mindless destruction of worship places,” Buhari said Wednesday. “Needless to say, this act is worse than the rigging of the elections.”

In an interview that aired Wednesday on CNN, Jonathan said that the postelection violence “was not a spontaneous reaction.”

“I don’t want to accuse anybody, but we believe that people must be behind this,” Jonathan said.

In Kaduna, 111 miles (180 kilometers) away from the country’s capital of Abuja, patients continued to be carried into St. Gerard’s Catholic Hospital on Wednesday. Administrators there said they’ve assisted more than 200 patients suffering from machete and gunshot wounds since the violence began, with at least 20 others dying from their wounds in doctors’ care.

Its morgue told the story of the fury that descended over the mobs: The bloated bodies of victims bore gunshot wounds and charred flesh, while one had been disemboweled.

It appears not all the victims suffered at the hands of rioters. Soldiers filled Kaduna’s streets after the violence and some patients at the hospital bore gunshot wounds that appeared to be from assault rifles. One patient recounted how a soldier slapped him in the face and pushed him to the ground before firing into his stomach. The man said he can no longer stand or eat.

Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is roughly divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim north. A dozen states across Nigeria’s north have Islamic Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

Thousands have been killed in religious violence in the past decade. In Kaduna alone, more than 2,000 died in riots in 2000 over implementing Shariah law. Rioting in 2002 killed dozens here as well.

The roots of the sectarian conflict across the north often have more to do with struggles for political and economic dominance. Opportunities remain few for those in the arid north, as jobs are scarce and a formal education remains out of the reach of many in a nation where most earn less than $2 a day. Meanwhile, politicians spend billions of dollars of oil revenues with little or no oversight — fueling popular dissent.

In Kaduna state alone, police say they’ve arrested more than 300 people for taking part in the rioting. Late Wednesday, officers brought about 200 suspects before a local court for an arraignment. Among the men were a few bewildered boys. Most went barefoot.

“You arm robbed and raped and killed a considerable number of people who had nothing to do with the riots,” chief magistrate Nasiru Idris told them through a Hausa interpreter.

Idris remanded them to prison for two months. Such a decision could be fatal to a number of them, as police and prison officials in the country often commit so-called “extra-judicial killings.” Others have been held for decades without facing formal charges. As the suspects came outside and sat in the parking lot under guard, a few began to cry.

The Rev. Andrew Dodo, the chaplain at St. Gerard’s, said he ministered to many people who still wondered what had happened. Still, during his recent sleepless nights, he said still offered the same prayers.

“I have always asked God for the gift of forgiveness,” the preacher said.

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Yinka Ibukun in Lagos; Bashir Adigun in Abuja; Maggie Fick in Kano and Saadatu Mohammed in Gombe contributed to this report.

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