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Jos - Nigeria's Islamist sect Boko Haram said it was behind a suicide bomb attack Sunday that killed at least three outside a church in the central city of Jos, and warned of more such assaults.
Witnesses said a car packed with explosives rammed the gate of a perimeter fence and exploded a few metres (yards) from the wall of an 800-seat church hall in the volatile city.
Three people including a toddler were killed in the attack, igniting brief riots by Christian youths that left another three people, believed to be Muslims, dead on the streets of the capital of Plateau State.
Nigerian emergency services said 38 people were injured in the bombing. Church leaders said a total of
50 wounded were being treated at hospitals.
“We carried out the attack on COCIN church in Jos today and we did what we did as part of our resolve to avenge the killings and dehumanisation of Muslims in Jos in the last 10 years,” spokesman Abul Qaqa told reporters in a conference call.
Qaqa said that the Christian Church of Nigeria (COCIN) had not been targeted for any reason.
“We attacked simply because it's a church and we can decide to attack any other church.
“We have just started,” he added.
The bombing is the latest of a series of almost daily attacks, most of them blamed on the Islamist sect, that have heightened tensions in central Nigeria.
President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the sectarian violence and appealed for calm.
“Those who seek to divide us by fear and terror will not succeed. The indiscriminate bombing of Christians and Muslims is a threat to all peace-loving Nigerians,” he said in a statement.
Jos and its environs are one of the most volatile areas in Nigeria. Thousands of people have been killed in deadly cycles of sectarian clashes and reprisals between Muslims and Christians in recent years.
The city lies in the so-called middle belt region roughly dividing the mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south of Africa's most populous nation.
Police confirmed the bombing, but declined to comment on the subsequent rioting, saying life had returned to normal after the attack.
“The bomber drove at top speed, and there was a loud explosion and everything was black,” said churchgoer Ezekiel Gomos, who saw a black car driving fast towards the church hall around 30 minutes into the service.
The church was about 80 percent full at the time.
“If he had driven into the middle of the church it could have been worse, but God was in control,” said Gomos.
Local resident Bello Mohammed said he saw Christian youths rampaging through the streets following the bombing.
“They marched on the streets and set up a barricade on the road leading to the church. They also burned down shops owned by Muslims,” said Mohammed.
An AFP reporter saw three bodies lying in a street in the same district as the bombed church. Elsewhere, he saw a row of Muslim-owned shops that had apparently been torched by rampaging youths.
Qaqa also claimed the sect attacked a prison in a failed jail break and a police station in which 12 people died on Friday in northern Gombe state.
Two gunmen late Sunday shot dead the head of a local vigilante group, 75-year-old Muhammad Wanzan, at his house in Potiskum town of Yobe state, residents said.
In Kaduna, another northern state, a policeman was shot dead by gunmen on Saturday, police said.
Boko Haram has been blamed for a wave of increasingly bloody attacks in Nigeria in recent months, mostly in the Muslim-dominated north.
Incidents of attacks are also growing in the central region. On February 19 several people were injured in an explosion near a church outside the capital Abuja.
The group has targeted Christians on several previous occasions, notably by bombing a Catholic church, thereby killing 44 people on Christmas Day near Abuja.
The anti-Christian violence has sparked fears of a wider religious conflict. - Sapa-AFP