By Paul Jongas, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Nigeria
KADUNA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– Tensions remained high in Nigeria’s volatile city of Kaduna on Monday, October 29, after a suicide bomber drove his vehicle packed with explosives into a Catholic church Church, killing at least four worshipers, wounding nearly 100 and triggering deadly reprisal attacks, officials said.
Christians said the bomber drove a Mercedes jeep into the overcrowded St Rita’s Church, in the Malali area of Kaduna, during Sunday morning Mass.
After being denied entrance to the church grounds at the gate, the bomber reportedly reversed his vehicle then rammed into the church’s perimeter wall, destroying the area reserved for the church’s choir.
The resident priest, identified as Reverend Father Bonny, was initially reported to have been mong the fatalities, but he is recovering in hospital, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) an aid and advocacy group.
The force of the explosion also caused severe structural damage to several nearby homes and buildings, witnesses said.
“The heavy explosion also damaged so many buildings around the area,” added survivor, Linus Lighthouse, who claimed there had been two explosions in different parts of the church.
However Reuters news agency quoted police as saying that there was only one bomber.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Islamic militant group Boko Haram has claimed similar attacks in the past. Boko Haram, which means ‘Western Education is a sin’ has attacked several churches with bombs and guns since it intensified its campaign against Christians in the past year as part of it efforts to establish a strict Islamic state.
Following the blast, angry religious youths claiming to be Christians took to the streets armed with sticks and knives.
Reporters 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, a Reuters news agency journalist said.
Police set up roadblocks and patrols across town to prevent the violence spreading.
At least 2,800 people have died in fighting since Boko Haram’s Islamic campaign began in 2009, according to watchdog Human Rights Watch.
The attack comes two days after young people of different religious backrounds celebrated the Muslim holiday Eid el-Kabir, in the latest reconciliation effort by the Christian-Muslim Peace and Unity Initiative of Nigeria.
During the gathering, which was attended by dignitaries from both religious communities, a ram was reportedly symbolically sacrificed. Youth called for an end to using young men as foot soldiers by forces bent on fomenting religious violence.
Reverend Yunusa Nmadu, the chief executive officer of CSW Nigeria, said Sunday’s attack undermining these reconciliation efforts. “We are deeply saddened by this attack, which is capable of de-railing ongoing interfaith reconciliation initiatives that have been making slow but sure progress,” he said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
He added that those behind the “appalling violence” tried to turn Muslims and Christians “irrevocably against each other, thereby destroying the nation.”
Nmadu explained that he has appealed to all Nigerians to “join forces to flush them out of our communities and bring an end to every lingering source of tension, suspicion and violence.”
Nigerians Christians have complained about a lack of security, though authorities say they have stepped up patrols in crisis areas.
CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston told BosNewsLife however that “The actions of a destructive minority must not be allowed to disrupt the peace building work that is taking place in Kaduna.” People of goodwill, he said, “should continue to unite across the religious divide to ensure the return of lasting peace and security to the state.” (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).