By Camillus Eboh
ABUJA (Reuters) - A bomb exploded near a church in the Nigerian town of Suleja, on the edge of the capital, Sunday, wounding five people, a spokesman for the emergency services said.
A Reuters reporter on the street near the Christ Embassy Church saw five vehicles with their glass shattered, two of them largely destroyed. Grey ash was cast across the ground.
"No person died in the Suleja explosion. One person was seriously injured and is now in hospital. Four victims had minor injuries while five vehicles were damaged," said Yushua Shuaib, a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency.
The street seemed otherwise largely unscathed. Soldiers cordoned the area off and were patrolling in large numbers.
Nigerian officials say Suleja and surrounding Niger state have been infiltrated by militants from the Boko Haram Islamist sect which is waging an insurgency against the Nigerian government, formerly confined to the largely Muslim far north and northeast.
The sect, which wants sharia law more widely applied across Africa's most populous nation, has become increasingly sophisticated and deadly in its methods in the last six months.
Uyi Idugboe, pastor of Christ Embassy Church, said one of his congregation had spotted a suspicious looking package between two cars when he went outside to check his vehicle was locked. He then alerted everyone to stay indoors.
"The blast struck just a few minutes after our service started at 10 a.m. When we were alerted, about 25 minutes before the detonation, we called everybody inside the church. That is why we don't have casualties," he said, declining to comment on whether the bomber was targeting the church.
Boko Haram has radiated from its northern heartlands and struck in or around the capital a few times, including a truck bomb last August that gutted the United Nations headquarters and killed at least 25 people.
On Christmas Day, a bomb blast claimed by Boko Haram against a Catholic Church in Madala, just outside Abuja, killed 37 people and wounded 57. The attack heightened sectarian tensions in the country of 160 million, split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.
Wednesday, gunmen suspected to be from Boko Haram stormed a prison in Kogi state in central Nigeria, killing one warden and freeing 119 prisoners, the prison authorities said.
Although the majority of the sect's attacks still occur in its home base in the northeast, its threat has spread and become more lethal. At least 178 people were killed in the sect's most deadly attack last month in Nigeria's second biggest city, Kano.
(Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)