Zaria, Nigeria: Explosions at three churches in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna state killed at least seven people on Sunday, leading furious Christian youths to drag Muslims out of their cars and kill them in retaliation, officials and witnesses said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Islamist sect Boko Haram has often attacked church services in Nigeria, split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.
The explosions and retaliatory attacks stoked fears of wider sectarian conflict in Africa’s top oil producer and Opec member, although flare-ups of this nature are usually brief.
Two explosions rocked churches in the town of Zaria within minutes of each other. First, a suicide bomber drove a blue Honda civic into a church, burning the front entrance and damaging the building, the church’s pastor told a Reuters cameraman at the scene.
“Three people are confirmed killed. Others have been taken to hospital for treatment,” Reverend Nathan Waziri said.
Then, militants threw bombs at another church, killing four children who were playing on the streets outside, said resident Deborah Osagie, who lives opposite the church. She added that the militants were later caught by a mob and killed.
A blast hit a third church in the state’s main city of Kaduna, causing an unknown number of casualties, witnesses and the National Emergency Management Agency said.
After the bombs, angry youths blocked the highway leading south out of Kaduna to the capital Abuja, dragging Muslims out of their cars and killing them, witnesses said.
“We had to return home when we saw them [the Christian youths] attacking. I saw many bodies on the ground but I don’t know how many were dead or just injured,” said Kaduna resident Rafael Gwaza.
Witness Haruna Eisa said up to 20 people may have been killed in reprisals at the road block. “There were bodies everywhere on the ground,” he said.
Regular attacks on Sunday church services are usually claimed by Boko Haram, which says it is fighting to reinstate an ancient Islamic caliphate that would adhere to strict Sharia.
Boko Haram, which has become increasingly radicalised and meshed with other groups in the region, including Al Qaida’s north African wing, is the leading security threat to Nigeria.
Militants also attacked two churches in Nigeria last Sunday, spraying the congregation of one with bullets, killing at least one person, and blowing up a car in a suicide bombing at the other, wounding 41.
The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has justified attacks on Christians as revenge for killings of Muslims in Nigeria’s volatile “Middle Belt”, where the largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet.
Kaduna is close to the Middle Belt areas.