By Paul Jongas, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Nigeria
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– A suicide bomber attacked a major Catholic church in northern Nigeria early Sunday, September 23, killing at least three people and injuring dozens of others, local Christians told BosNewsLife.
The blast rocked the St. John’s Catholic Church in the city of Bauchi at the end of Mass, a witness said.
“The suicide bomber came in an Opel Vectra [Sedan] car…He carried out this disastrous act when he was sure that church members were coming out of the church,” a church member told BosNewsLife.
The witness did not want to be identified amid fears of retribution.
Among those killed were reportedly a woman and an eight-year-old boy. The third person was believed to be the suicide bomber. Some 48 people were injured, many of them seriously, according to the Red Cross and local police.
Sunday’s attack happened despite increased security measures in the region, which were imposed after a wave of previous deadly church bombings.
However regional police commissioner Mohammed Ladan said in remarks obtained by BosNewsLife that his forces were “on top of the situation”, without elaborating.
“He couldn’t reach the church … because of the barriers,” and so rammed his Opel Vectra sedan into the line of people waiting to enter Sunday services,
Bauchi state police spokesman Mohammed Hassan told reporters.
It was not immediately clear who was behind Sunday’s blast, but Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed previous church attacks.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language of Nigeria’s north, has been fighting for the implementation of strict Shariah, or Islamic law, across the entire country.
It also demands the release of all its captive members.
Boko Haram’s increasingly bloody bloody fight against Nigeria’s weak central government has claimed over the lives of nearly 700 people in drive-by killings and bombings, according to media estimates.
Sunday’s blast was the bloodiest church violence in weeks.
Boko Haram’s most noticeably church attack so far was Christmas Day 2011 on a Catholic church in Madalla near Nigeria’s capital. That attack and assaults elsewhere in the country killed at least 44 people.
An unclaimed car bombing on Easter in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna killed at least 38 people on a busy roadway, after witnesses said it was turned away from a church.
Attacks against churches had waned in recent weeks after security forces killed or captured several Boko Haram militants.
Nigeria’s military claimed it killed the Boko Haram’s spokesman and a commander on September 17 outside the city of Kano in an attempt to undermine its command structure.
The group reportedly changed some of its tactics and attacked over 30 mobile phone towers throughout northern Nigeria, disrupting communications in a nation reliant on cellular phones, news reports said. (With editing and additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).