KADUNA: A suicide attacker drove a car bomb into a Nigerian church on Sunday, sparking fierce reprisals that saw a Christian mob burn a man alive in a day of violence that killed at least 10 people and wounded 145.
The church attack left at least seven people dead in addition to the bomber, while at least three people were killed in reprisal violence, a rescue official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to provide figures.
According to Musa Ilallah, regional coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency, the number of wounded was 145.
Christian youths took to the streets of the northern city of Kaduna with machetes and sticks after the blast, targeting those they believed to be Muslims as anger again boiled over due to repeated church bombings in recent months.
Attackers beat a motorcycle taxi driver near the church, then put his bike on top of him before dousing him with petrol and setting him on fire, an AFP correspondent who saw the violence said. Two other bloodied bodies apparently killed by the mob were seen near the church.
A rescue official on condition of anonymity also spoke of the man being burnt and said rescuers could not save him because the mob was too violent.
The mob also attacked an ambulance in the ensuing violence, but there was no indication that rescuers were wounded.
The attacker rammed what residents said was an SUV into St. Rita church, shaking the Malali neighbourhood of Kaduna, a city that has suffered a wave of deadly violence blamed on Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.
“All of a sudden it drove on high speed and rammed into the church wall, forcing its way into the church premises,” said witness Samuel Emmanuel.
“Initially I thought the driver had lost control of the vehicle. Suddenly there was a huge explosion as the car reached the church building. It was dust, fire and smoke all over.” A spokesman for Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency confirmed the bomb attack and said rescuers had been rushed to the scene.
“A number of casualties evacuated to hospitals,” said the spokesman, Yushau Shuaib. “The incident was suspected to be triggered by a suicide bomber in a car.”
An AFP correspondent said mobs were yelling “Why the church?” and some were carrying weapons, including machetes. Local elders were seeking to restore calm, while soldiers arrived on the scene and were working to bring order.
The attack came after Friday's Muslim Eidul Azha holiday, but it was not clear if there was any link.
In June, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for three suicide attacks on churches in Kaduna state, where the city of Kaduna is located, which led to deadly rioting. Dozens of people were killed in the violence.
Boko Haram's insurgency in northern and central Nigeria has led to more than 2,800 deaths since 2009, including killings by the security forces. While Muslims have often been its victims, it has in recent months also specifically targeted churches.
President Goodluck Jonathan has said the group is seeking to incite a religious crisis in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
Kaduna is a large, mainly Muslim city in Nigeria's north and includes a sizeable Christian population.
Nigerians have grown increasingly frustrated with security forces' inability to stop Boko Haram attacks, and there have been warnings of more reprisals if the violence continued.
Some Evangelical church leaders in Nigeria have said Christians may be forced to defend themselves if something is not done to address the unrest.
A Kaduna-based rights activist, Shehu Sani, issued a statement after Sunday's violence saying “our churches and mosques have now become a hostile arena for deranged and murderous psychopaths.
“The government of Nigeria must wake up and live up to its duties and constitutional responsibilities,” he said. “We must find a lasting solution to this carnage and arbitrariness.”