Armed with guns and machetes, gangs of Muslim herdsmen descended on primarily Christian villages near the city of Jos, Nigeria, early Monday, setting fires to force people outside of their homes and then hacking them to death with machetes. Reports say the streets are littered with the bodies of women and children, many charred beyond recognition, and government officials say nearly 500 people were killed. The murders mark a long tradition of ethnic and religious violence in Africa’s most populous country, where sectarian attacks frequently break out in the area between the mostly Muslim north and Christian south. A similar massacre killed 300 people in 2008, and Monday’s attacks are believed to be a reprisal for the murder of Muslim villagers in January. The government is in a state of political uncertainty and there are few security forces in the area, leaving human rights groups and the villagers themselves to care for wounded and count the dead.