JOS, Nigeria -- Raids and reprisal attacks have left 58 people dead in Christian villages near a Nigerian city where authorities have struggled to contain religious violence, officials said Sunday.
Assailants launched "sophisticated attacks" on several villages near Jos early Saturday, said Mustapha Salisu, spokesman for a special task force of the west African nation made up of policemen and soldiers deployed in the area to curb years of violence.
"They came in hundreds," Mr. Salisu said. "Some had [police] uniforms and some even had bulletproof vests."
He said the special task force fought back for hours and lost two policemen in the battle.
Late Sunday, Nigerian Red Cross official Andronicus Adeyemo said aid workers had counted 56 dead and more than 300 displaced people from the attacks.
He said the killing of a federal lawmaker and a state lawmaker brought the deaths to 58 after the two officials were ambushed Sunday afternoon on their way to a mass burial for the victims.
The state government's press officer, James Mannock, said they were Sen. Gyang Dantong and Gyang Fulani, majority leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly.
A third lawmaker hurt in the ambush was one of seven people injured, Mr. Adeyemo said.
"As a nation, we must rise against those who are determined to return us to a state of nature where life has little or no value," Nigerian Senate President David Mark said in a statement.
Authorities declined to comment on who they suspect, but similar raids have been blamed on Muslim herdsmen in the past.
Mark Lipdo, who runs a Christian advocacy group known as the Stefanos Foundation, gave a list of the 13 villages where he got reports of attacks. He said they were all Christian.
He blamed Muslim herdsmen of the Fulani ethnic group for the attacks. However, Nurudeen Abdullahi, Plateau State chairman of Miyetti Allah Fulani Herdsmen Association, denied involvement by the herdsmen.
Mr. Abdullahi accused Christian farmers of attacking Muslim settlements and stealing their cows.
Jos and surrounding Plateau state have been torn apart in recent years by violence pitting its ethnic groups and major religions -- Christianity and Islam -- against each other. While divided by religion, politics and economics often fuel the fighting.
Nigeria, a multi-ethnic nation of more than 160 million people, is largely divided into a mainly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north. Jos is located in the "middle belt," at the meeting point of these two regions.world