KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) - A suicide bomber drove a jeep full of explosives into a Catholic church during morning mass in northern Nigeria on Sunday, killing at least eight people, wounding more than 100 and triggering reprisal attacks that killed at least two more.
There was no claim of responsibility but Islamist sect Boko Haram has bombed several churches in the past in its fight to create an Islamic state in Nigeria where the 160 million population is evenly split between Christians and Muslims.
The bomber drove the car into the wall of the packed St Rita’s church in the Malali area of Kaduna, a volatile ethnically and religiously mixed city, witnesses said.
A wall of the church was blasted open and scorched black, with debris lying around.
“The heavy explosion also damaged so many buildings around the area,” said survivor Linus Lighthouse.
A spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Yushua Shuaib said eight people had been confirmed killed and more than 100 wounded.
Church attacks often target Nigeria’s middle belt, where its largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet and where sectarian tensions run high. Kaduna’s mixed population lies along that faultline.
Shortly after the blast, angry Christian youths took to the streets armed with sticks and knives. A Reuters reporter saw two bodies at the roadside lying in pools of blood.
“We killed them and we’ll do more,” shouted a youth, with blood on his shirt, before police chased him and others away. Police set up roadblocks and patrols across the town in an effort to prevent the violence spreading.
Police spokesman Aminu Lawal said later the situation was calm. “All the areas prone to reprisal attacks are under control and getting back to normal,” he said by telephone.
At least 2,800 people have died in fighting since Boko Haram’s insurrection began in 2009, according to Human Rights Watch. Most were Muslims in the northeast of the country, where the sect usually attacks politicians and security forces.
Another witness to the bombing, Daniel Kazah, a member of the Catholic cadets at the church, said he had seen three bodies on the bloodied church floor in the aftermath.
In previous such attacks, bombers have usually failed to enter church buildings and detonated their explosives at entrances or in car parks.
A spokesman for St Gerard’s Catholic hospital, Sunday John, said the hospital was treating 14 wounded. Another hospital, Garkura, had at least 84 victims, a NEMA official said.
Many residents of Kaduna rushed indoors, fearing a resurgence of the sectarian killing that has periodically blighted the city.
A bomb attack in a church in Kaduna state in June triggered a week of tit-for-tat violence that killed at least 90 people.
Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Jon Hemming