By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– A suicide car bomber struck a Catholic church in Nigeria’s central city of Jos, Sunday, March 11, killing at least seven people people, while three others were killed by confused security guards, sparking deadly reprisal attacks by religious Christian mobs, church and government officials said.
“A bomb blast took place just at the beginning of Holy Mass at the St. Finbar’s Catholic Church in Jos,” said the Communications Director Patrick Alumuku of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
“The priest had just begun the mass and began reading when the bomb” went off, he said.
Peter Umoren, the parish priest at the church, told reporters that seven of his parishioners were killed while 12 others were injured in the blast.
He said there were a total of four suicide bombers, two in the car and two on a motorcycle escorting it, all of whom were killed. There was no immediate confirmation of his claim.
Soon after the attack, three men were then shot and killed as security forces fired on a crowd of onlookers who gathered after the blast, French news agency AFP quoted Plateau State government spokesman Pam Ayuba as saying.
Emergency workers said the death toll could have been higher had the bomber managed to get the vehicle closer to his target. The bomb exploded just outside the church.
Soon after the attack, religious Christian young fighters killed at least 10 people in reprisal attacks, said Sati Dakwat, health commissioner for Jos, in published remarks, adding that the situation “is calm now.”
Devoted Christians and the Catholic Church have condemned reprisal attacks. “The Christian position has been a very clear one to ensure that people are able to protect themselves from attacks,” explained Alumuku. “But not to embark on reprisals. At least that is the Catholic position in Nigeria,” he stressed.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, has condemned Sunday’s bombing and reaffirmed his government’s determination “to end the spate of mindless attacks and killings”. He has been criticized for not doing enough to halt the bloodshed, though authorities claim they have increased security efforts.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday’s blast, but radical Islamic group Boko Haram, or ‘Western education is a sin’ has claimed similar attacks, including one on February 26 that killed at least six people at the Church of Christ in Jos.
The militant group says it is fighting to impose a strict form of Islamic law across the country. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with more than 160 million people. It is divided roughly in half between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south, according to official estimates.
So far over 100 Christians have been killed this year in violence perpetrated by the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram in Northern Nigerian regions, Christian rights group Release International and other activists say.
Thousands of Christians who have fled their homes as a result of the recent militant atrocities have been helped by local churches and by the authorities but Christian aid groups say more funds are needed to provide vital support.