A suicide bomber drove a vehicle packed with explosives into a Catholic church in Kaduna on Sunday, killing at least eight people, wounding nearly 100 and triggering reprisals that led to the death of at least two more, officials said.
The bomber drove a jeep right inside the packed St Rita's Church, in the Malali area of Kaduna, a volatile ethnically and religiously mixed city, in the morning.
A spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Kaduna said that five people had been confirmed killed, while 98 people were receiving treatment for wounds at two local hospitals.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Islamist sect, Boko Haram, has claimed similar attacks in the past and has attacked several churches with bombs and guns since it intensified its campaign against Christians in the past year.
"The heavy explosion also damaged so many buildings around the area," said survivor, Linus Lighthouse, saying he thought there had been two explosions in different parts of the church.
Other witnesses and the police said there was just one bomber. A wall of the church was blasted open and scorched black, with debris lying around. Police later moved in and cordoned the area off.
Shortly after the blast, angry Christian youths took to the streets armed with sticks and knives. A Reuters reporter saw two bodies on the roadside lying in pools of blood.
"We killed them and we'll do more," shouted a youth, with blood on his shirt, before police chased him and his cohorts away. Police set up roadblocks and patrols across town in an effort to prevent the violence spreading.
At least 2,800 people have died in fighting since Boko Haram's insurrection began in 2009, according to Human Rights Watch. Most were Muslims in the North-East, where the sect usually targets politicians and security forces.
Another witness to the bombing, Daniel Kazah, a member of the Catholic cadets in the church, said he had seen three bodies on the church floor in the aftermath.
A spokesman for St Gerard's Catholic Hospital, Sunday John, said the hospital was treating 14 wounded persons. Another hospital, Garkura, had 84 victims, the NEMA official said.
Many residents rushed indoors, fearing an upsurge in the sectarian killing that has periodically blighted Kaduna. A bomb attack in a church in Kaduna State in June triggered a week of tit-for-tat violence that killed at least 90 people.
Meanwhile, the Kaduna State government on Sunday called for calm and urged the people to ignore rumours of reprisals for the church bombing earlier in the day.
In a statement in Kaduna, Mr Reuben Buhari, the Senior Special Assistant (Media) to Governor Patrick Yakowa, said that anyone caught spreading such false information would be made to face the full wrath of the law.
He, however, condoled with those who lost their loved ones and property in the blast.
Buhari stressed that the security agencies were on top of the situation and assured residents of adequate security.
Commuters in different areas of the Kaduna metropolis were on Sunday stranded, following the bombing of St. Rita’s Catholic Church.
Many drivers of commercial vehicles scampered into bushes, parks and police stations, due to fear of reprisals for the church attack.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that commuters were seen in their hundreds trekking from Sabo market to Television Garage, while others trekked from Television Garage to Stadium Roundabout.
Besides, many people were seen trekking from Ahmadu Bello Way to Kawo and Kassuwa to Angwar-Rimi.
Some of the commuters who were seen soliciting the assistance of private motorists for ride to their various destinations, narrated their ordeal to NAN.
Mrs Joy Onum, a resident of the Sabo neighbourhood, said that she and her three children trekked from NNPC refinery junction to Television Garage.
“My house at Gonigora is still far away but we were coming from our church in Kamazoo; I pray we get home because the town is tense,” she said.
Onum, however, said that no commercial driver would be blamed for staying off the road, as the people had to play safe because of the fear of reprisals.
Another resident, Mr Bako Sunday, said that the explosion had appreciably heightened tension in the city.
“We are afraid of further violence by irate youths because we have yet to fully recover from the June bomb-blast reprisals,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has condemned the bomb attack, describing it as "barbaric, cruel and uncalled for," saying that he was saddened by the development.
A statement issued by Dr Reuben Abati in Abuja on Sunday expressed President Jonathan's belief that the apparent objective of the criminal and unpatriotic elements and forces behind the attack was to set back the progress the administration has made in the fight against terrorism in the country.
"It is obvious that these people do not mean well for Nigeria and its unity and development," the statement said.
The president was, however, confident that the war against terrorism would become more unrelenting, as the nation would never give in to the forces of terror and retardation.
The statement quoted him as saying that the persistence of messengers of evil would not prevail over the will of the government and the people to secure peace and safety.
“Our efforts to deal with all acts of terror and violence would only be redoubled, even as security agencies continue to receive all the support they need from government to reverse this unfortunate and unacceptable trend that threatens the peace and stability of our nation,” President Jonathan said.
He commiserated with the Catholic Church, family and friends of the victims of the bombing, assuring them that government’s resolve to deal with the threat of terrorism remained strong.
Also, the Senate President, David Mark, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, condemned the renewed attack against places of worship, particularly the attack on St. Rita’s Catholic Church.
He said it was never late for perpetrators of the act to repent from their sinful acts against God and humanity.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal, also condemned the attack on St. Rita’s Catholic Church, Kaduna.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Malam Imam Imam, Tambuwal said the attack on innocent worshippers and other bystanders was both callous and senseless.
He urged Nigerians to remain resolute and not to despair, saying “it is gladdening that security agents have made commendable strides in efforts to handle the menace of terrorism in the country in recent months.”
The speaker, however, urged them to do more to destroy the ability of the terrorists to unleash mayhem on innocent, peaceful and law-abiding Nigerians.
While condoling with the families of the victims of the attack, Tambuwal said the House of Representatives would continue to support all efforts aimed at securing life and property in the country.
In another development, an explosion on Ilela Street in the Bauchi metropolis late on Saturday injured two persons, the News Agency of Nigera (NAN) reported.
Bauchi State Commissioner of Police, Mr Mohammed Ladan, confirmed the incident in a telephone interview with a NAN correspondent in Bauchi.
He described the blast as not severe, saying, however, that two persons were “slightly injured.”
Meanwhile, two people were arrested on the suspicion of being suicide bombers who had wanted to bomb either of the Living Faith Church or Harvestfield Church of Christ at Yelwa Tudu, Bauchi.
This came on the heels of the arrest of two suspects by security operatives in the state, following the explosion that occurred on Saturday night at Ilelah Street.
Nigerian Tribune learnt that two people riding on a motorbike at about 11.00 a.m. had gained access to the road leading to the church, but later changed their route, a development that aroused suspicion.
This made the soldiers in the area to go after them, leading to the arrest of one of them, before the other one, suspected to be carrying the purported bomb, was later rounded up by soldiers.
Speaking on the incident, the pastor in charge of the Living Faith Church, Pastor Johnson Akpena, told journalists in a telephone interview that he was not aware of the arrest of the two suspects.
Confirming the arrest, however, the state Commissioner of Police, Ladan, told journalists that soldiers arrested two people, adding that they were not suicide bombers as insinuated.
He said they were arrested by the soldiers for their refusal to stop when asked to do so, as no suspected object was found on them.