Mosques and churches smoldered and charred bodies lay in the dusty streets of Kaduna, the northern city where the violence started Wednesday. Muslims enraged by a newspaper report questioning their complaints about the pageant set fire to the newspaper's office and began burning churches and attacking Christians.
Red Cross officials said about 100 people had been killed and 500 injured in three days of fighting. By Friday, separate riots erupted in the capital Abuja, 225 miles to the northeast, where the beauty pageant is still planned for Dec. 7. Islamic groups for months threatened to protest the event, which they say promotes promiscuity and indecency.
Muslims rioters gathered after prayers outside the national mosque in Abuja and then stormed through the usually placid capital, burning cars and assaulting bystanders they believed to be Christian outside plush international hotels.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the Abuja rioters and calm was restored within hours. But the melee in Kaduna, a religiously mixed city of several million people, continued in defiance of a round-the-clock police curfew.
Bands of Muslims, some armed with ceremonial daggers, stabbed and set fire to passers-by. Young men shouting "Allahu Akhbar," or "God is great," ignited makeshift barricades of tires and garbage. Christian youths smashed windows and set fire to mosques.
Plumes of smoke rose over Kaduna Friday as both sides burned and demolished homes in the segregated ethnic neighborhoods across this bustling market city. In one Christian minority district, an elderly woman sifted through the smoking ruins of her house to retrieve pots and plans.
Nearby, Tunde Adeyemi, a 25-year-old Christian, related how he and friends fought off Muslims. "We had only stones. They were shooting us, and we were stoning them," he said. But Joe Adamu, a Muslim tailor, said Christians were armed with automatic weapons, while the Muslims had only stones and knives. Five churches had been burned by Friday and an undetermined number of mosques. Red Cross workers retrieved burned bodies for burial.
Through the violence, the Miss World contestants remained sequestered under Nigerian police and army guard in the Nicon Hilton in Abuja, the nation's fanciest hotel. President Olusegun Obasanjo said security for the women would be increased.
But security has been tight from the beginning for the pageant, because of the Muslim opposition. Their objections prompted organizers to postpone the finale until after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Pageant publicist Stella Din said the contestants were safe. She said she was "saddened" by the deaths but insisted they were not the fault of the pageant. "The show definitely will go on," Din said.
Obasanjo agreed the pageant was not to blame. "The beauty queens should not feel that they are the cause of the violence. It could happen at any time irresponsible journalism is committed against Islam."
The unrest started after ThisDay newspaper in Kaduna published an article suggesting that Islam's prophet would have approved of the pageant. "What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them," Isioma Daniel wrote in Saturday's article.
The newspaper ran a brief front-page apology Monday, followed by a more lengthy retraction Thursday, saying the passage had run by mistake. Some Kaduna residents sought protection at police stations and military bases. But others accused police and soldiers of gunning down rioters. Shehu Sani of the Kaduna-based Civil Rights Congress said he was shown the bodies of 10 Muslim men that witnesses said were shot Friday by police near a mosque. Authorities did not immediately comment on the allegations.
Bello Yawa, a 50-year-old Muslim, clutched his face and wept when he saw the body of his adult son lying on a street corner. "This morning I closed the gates to my house. The army and police came and forced their way in. They took my two sons and brought them outside, and they didn't return," he said. "I don't know why ... even policemen have turned against us. They are not supposed to take sides."
Gunshots continued into the evening. Witnesses said fighting continued in at least one neighborhood, as flames consumed small dwellings. Previous riots in Kaduna have escalated into religious battles that have killed hundreds since civilian government replaced military rule in 1999.
Fearing violence could spread, security forces patrolled other major cities Friday, including the northern trading hub of Kano, where Muslim women peacefully protested. "We are calling on the government to stop Miss World, this show of shame. For women to expose herself to men other than their husbands is forbidden," said one of the protesters, Hadiza Usman.
Miss World organizers insist contestants have respected Muslim values by dressing conservatively.