An explosion ripped through a Catholic church during Christmas Mass near Nigeria’s capital yesterday, killing at least 25 people, officials said. A radical Muslim sect waging an increasingly sophisticated sectarian fight claimed the attack and another church bombing in the restive city of Jos, as explosions also struck the nation’s northeast.
The Christmas Day attacks show the growing national ambition of the sect known as Boko Haram, which is responsible for at least 491 killings this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The assaults come a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombings in Jos claimed by the militants left at least 32 dead and 74 wounded.
The first explosion yesterday struck St Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, a town in the state of Niger close to the capital, Abuja, authorities said. Rescue workers recovered at least 25 bodies from the church and officials continued to tally those wounded in various hospitals, said Slaku Luguard, a coordinator with the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency.
His agency already has acknowledged it did not have enough ambulances immediately on hand to help the wounded. Luguard also said an angry crowd that gathered at the blast site hampered rescue efforts as they refused to allow workers inside.
“We’re trying to calm the situation,” Luguard said. “There are some angry people around trying to cause problems.”
In Jos, a second explosion struck near a Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church, government spokesperson Pam Ayuba said. Ayuba said gunmen later opened fire on police guarding the area, killing one police officer. Two other locally made explosives were found in a nearby building and disarmed, he said.
“The military are here on ground and have taken control over the entire place,” Ayuba said.
Jos is located on the dividing line between the predominantly Christian south and Muslim north. Thousands have died in communal clashes there during the past decade.
After the bombings, a Boko Haram spokesperson using the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks in an interview with the Daily Trust, the newspaper of record across Nigeria’s Muslim north.
Several days of fighting in and around the northeastern city of Damaturu between the sect and security forces already had killed at least 61 people, authorities said. Yesterday, local police commissioner Tanko Lawan said two explosions struck Damaturu, including a blast near government offices.