A suicide car bomber drove into a north Nigeria church's compound Sunday and detonated his explosives as worshippers left an early morning service, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens more, officials and witnesses said.

The bomber targeted the Living Faith church, in a neighborhood near the airport in Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi state. The timed blast caught many people outside the church without any cover to protect themselves from the explosion, causing heavy casualties, witnesses said.

At least eight people were killed in the blast, as well as the bomber, Bauchi state police commissioner Mohammed Ladan said. He said security personnel stationed near the churches stopped the car from getting any closer to worshippers than it did.

More than 30 people suffered injuries in the blast, the Nigerian Red Cross said.

The powerful blast from the car destroyed part of the Harvest Field Church, sending walls of the building crashing down on worshippers still inside. Others suffered burns in the blast.

The death toll from the blast could rise. Police and soldiers surrounded the church immediately after the explosion, stopping emergency workers from going inside to collect the corpses of those killed. Witnesses who left the church after the blast said they saw as many as 10 dead.

A spokesman for Nigeria's Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed the explosion, but gave no details. Police officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

An Associated Press reporter saw injured people arriving at a local hospital.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though the blast comes as Nigeria faces a growing wave of sectarian violence carried out by a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's Muslim north, has been blamed for killing more than 530 people this year alone, according to an AP count. The sect's targets have included churches, often attacked by suicide car bombers.

Boko Haram, which speaks to journalists through telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday. The group has been largely quiet since claiming a suicide car bombing and another attack at offices of the Nigerian newspaper ThisDay on April 26 that killed at least seven people.

Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, is split between a largely Muslim north and Christian south.


Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria, and can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.