JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - Christian youths killed at least 10 people in reprisal attacks after a suspected suicide bomber hit a Catholic church in the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, killing three people, authorities said.
“The situation is bad,” Sati Dakwat, health commissioner for Jos, told Reuters. “Several were killed in the reprisal attacks, more than 10.”
A Reuters reporter at the scene of the church bombing was unable to gain access, as the police had cordoned off the area around Finber’s Catholic Church in the Rayfield suburb of Jos.
“We haven’t got actual figures of injured yet, but at least three people have been confirmed dead by our men attending the scene of the blast,” the Jos coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Al Hassan Aliyu said.
But he later added that “the situation is calm now”, after the initial reprisals by Christian youths.
Earlier NEMA called it a suspected suicide bombing, but Aliyu said this was not yet confirmed.
Islamist sect Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a wave of bomb attacks on churches across Nigeria since Christmas Day. The bombing campaign has raised fears that the group is trying to ignite sectarian conflict in Africa’s most populous country, split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.
In the past decade Jos has become the main flashpoint for tensions between Nigeria’s Christian and Muslim communities. Bombers have targeted its churches many times since Christmas.
A Reuters witness watched angry Christians set up road blocks near the church. In the past, such a move has preceded retaliatory violence against Muslims.
President Goodluck Jonathan, whose term has almost come to be dominated by the insurgency in the north, condemned the bombings, a statement from his office said.
“Despite seeming appearances to the contrary, government is indeed winning the war against the terrorists and will continue to progressively destroy their ability to unleash murderous attacks on peaceful, law-abiding Nigerians,” it said.
“Their hideouts and modus operandi are also being consistently exposed.”
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, wants sharia law more widely applied across Nigeria.
The sect has been waging an insurgency against Nigeria’s government since 2009, and has been blamed for hundreds of killings in gun and bomb attacks.
Styled on the Taliban, Boko Haram’s methods have become more sophisticated in the past six months, and it has widened its targets beyond the police and other authority figures to include Christian worshippers.
On February 26 a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a church in Jos, killing two people and wounding 38. Christian youths beat two Muslims to death in revenge.
Other cities also have been affected.
A bomb at a Catholic Church in Madala, just outside the capital Abuja, killed 37 people and wounded 57 on Christmas Day. Another blast struck a church in Jos.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for previous attacks on churches, citing violence against Muslims by Christians in Jos as justification.
Despite its Islamist ideology, it is Muslims in the north of Nigeria who mostly bear the brunt of the sect’s violence.
Police killed a suspected Boko Haram fighter and arrested 11 others in the sect’s northeastern heartland of Maiduguri on Saturday, Borno state police spokesman Samuel Tizhe said.
He said they had tried to attack a mobile police base, but were repelled. He said one of the gunmen was killed, 11 were arrested and arms and explosive devices were seized from them.
Earlier on Saturday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked and burned down a police station in Bulabilin Ngaura village, in the northeast, killing one policeman.
Suspected sect members shot dead a traditional ruler in the northeastern Gombe state, as he left a mosque after Friday prayers two days ago.
On Thursday, a Briton and an Italian held hostage in Nigeria were killed by their captors after being held for almost a year by what security officials said was a Boko Haram faction, although a spokesman for the sect denied any involvement.
Boko Haram used to be confined to Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno. But the sect, or factions of it, have expanded in the past six months to operate in at least 10 states across the north, and have struck the capital.
Additional reporting by Shuabu Mohammed in Jos and Ibrahim Mshelizza in Maiduguri; Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks; editing by Michael Roddy