Official: Suicide car bomber targets major church in restive central Nigeria, killing 3

Associated Press/February 26, 5:33 AM

Jos, Nigeria -- A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives outside a major church Sunday, killing three people and wounding 38 others in a restive central Nigerian city that has seen hundreds die in religious and ethnic violence.

The explosion struck the main headquarters of the Church of Christ in Nigeria during its early morning service, Plateau state spokesman Pam Ayuba said. The attack killed a woman, and a father and his child near the explosion, Ayuba said.

The bomber apparently ran down the woman while racing his car toward the church compound, said Mark Lipdo, a coordinator for a Christian group called the Stefanos Foundation. The blast left shattered glass all over the church compound, as an angry crowd of youths began smashing the windows of cars passing by the scene, witnesses said.

Emergency officials took 38 people to hospitals for treatment, said Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman with Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency.

Police officials in the city could not be immediately reached for comment. A military spokesman for the area said officials would brief journalists late Sunday.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has launched increasingly bloody attacks across Nigeria, including attacks on churches. A Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church that left at least 44 dead was claimed by the sect in Madalla, a town just outside the country's capital of Abuja.

The group also claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on Christmas Eve that struck Jos, killing as many as 80 people.

Jos and surrounding Plateau state have been torn apart in recent years by violence pitting its different ethnic groups and major religions — Christianity and Islam — against each other. Human Rights Watch says at least 1,000 people were killed in communal clashes around Jos in 2010.

The violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands.

The government of Plateau state is controlled by Christian politicians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens. That has locked many out of prized government jobs in a region where the tourism industry and tin mining have collapsed in recent decades.

Meanwhile, authorities said Saturday that suspected sect gunmen killed two police officers in separate attacks in Kaduna and Maiduguri, areas previously targeted by the sect.

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