A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives Sunday outside a church in central Nigeria as gunmen attacked another church in the nation's northeast, killing at least six people and wounding dozens of others in the latest attacks targeting Christian worshippers in a nation increasingly divided by faith, officials and witnesses said. A radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram claimed the attacks.
The violence Sunday in Jos and Biu, a city in hard-hit northeastern Borno state, comes as almost every weekend this year has seen churches targeted by Boko Haram and other shadowy assailants exacerbating the country's unease. Despite a heavy military presence in the region, deadly attacks by the sect have continued unstopped.
In Jos, a city on the uneasy dividing line between Nigeria's largely Muslim north and Christian south, the suicide car bomber drove toward the compound of the Christ Chosen Church of God in the city and detonated his bomb nearby, said Abu Emmanuel, a spokesman for Plateau state police. While outside of the church, the shock wave from the blast brought down a portion of the building, causing injuries inside, Emmanuel said.
Angry youths later surrounded the area, striking back against Muslims in retaliatory violence, witnesses said. Four people and the suicide bomber were killed, while more than 40 others were wounded, police and the military said.
More could die from the blast as it left many severely wounded, officials said.
Meanwhile in Biu, a city in northeast Nigeria's Borno state, gunmen opened fire during a service at an EYN church, an acronym that means "Church of the Brethen in Nigeria" in the local Hausa language of Nigeria's north, witnesses said. An usher and another worshipper at the church were killed in the attack while others were injured, military spokesman Col. Victor Ebhaleme
Borno state police commissioner Bala Hassan confirmed the attack and said officers were investigating.
Speaking to journalists on a conference call Sunday night, a spokesman for Boko Haram claimed both attacks. Nigeria faces a growing wave of sectarian violence carried out by Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in Hausa. Boko Haram has been blamed for killing more than 560 people this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The sect's targets have included churches, police stations and other security buildings, often attacked by suicide car bombers across northern Nigeria.
Boko Haram most recently claimed responsibility for the drive-by killing Tuesday of a retired deputy inspector-general of police and two other officers in Nigeria's largest northern city of Kano.
Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, is divided between a largely Muslim north and Christian south. Boko Haram attacks have inflamed tensions between the two religions, though many in the faiths live peacefully with each other and intermarry in Africa's most populous nation. Churches across the country now receive additional military and police protection, while church officials use metal-detecting wands to check worshippers and encourage women to leave their purses at home.
The most recent attack on a church Easter Sunday saw a suicide car bomber detonate his explosives in the Nigerian city of Kaduna after apparently turning away from a church, killing at least 41 people. On Christmas Day, a Boko Haram-claimed car bomb attack on a Catholic church in Madalla near Nigeria's capital and assaults elsewhere in the country killed at least 44 people.
In Jos, a city in Nigeria's fertile central belt, religious rioting and violence has killed thousands in the last decade. However, the attacks often take root in political and economic disputes between the many ethnic groups living in the region.
Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria and can be reached at http://twitter.com/jongambrellap.
Associated Press reporters Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria contributed to this report.