JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - A suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a church in the Nigerian city of Jos Sunday, killing two people and wounding 38, and Christian youths beat two Muslims to death in revenge.
Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the bombing, the latest in a series of attacks on churches which have fuelled fears the group is seeking to ignite sectarian strife.
Two of the bodies were visible at the scene. Emergency services confirmed the three deaths, which included the bomber who rammed his Volkswagen into the church.
Shortly afterwards, angry Christian youths set up a road block at which they dragged two Muslim men off their motorbikes and beat them to death in revenge, police said.
The bodies of those two men lay by the road in Jos, a city in Nigeria’s rocky “Middle Belt” where its largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet.
A man saying he was Abu Qaqa, the spokesman for Islamist militant group Boko Haram, whom Nigerian security forces said they captured but the sect says is still at large, telephoned reporters in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri to claim responsibility for the bombing.
He said it was revenge for attacks on Muslims by Christians in Jos and surrounding Plateau state in the past.
Local resident Ishayaa Makut witnessed the blast. “I heard a loud explosion near the church and I hit the ground. It shook buildings.”
Ethnic and religious tensions run high in the city and other parts of the surrounding region, which has seen hundreds killed in bouts of intercommunal violence in the past decade.
President Goodluck Jonathan issued a statement condemning the bombings and urged “residents of Plateau state to remain calm and be law-abiding.”
“Efforts are being redoubled to win the war against terror,” the statement said.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” wants sharia law more widely applied across the continent’s most populous nation.
Styled on the Taliban, it has become increasingly sophisticated and deadly in its methods in the past six months and widened its targets beyond attacks on police and other authority figures to include Christians.
Another bomb exploded near a church in the Nigerian town of Suleja, on the edge of the capital Abuja, Sunday, wounding five people.
In controlled explosions, police detonated two bombs on Sunday that had been planted at the police barracks in Gombe, a northeastern city that had been largely free of the Islamist insurgency until this weekend, Gandi Orubebe, police commissioner for Gombe, said by telephone.
Friday, Gombe was shaken a series of explosions as gunmen attempted a prison break that killed 12 people.
Boko Haram has not often used suicide bombers. The first proven case of such a tactic was last August, when a Boko Haram militant drove a vehicle full of explosives into the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, killing 25 people.
A series of bombs struck churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day, including one which hit a Catholic Church in Madala, just outside Abuja, killing 37 people and wounding 57, and one in Jos. Boko Haram claimed the blasts.
The country of 160 million is split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims, who mostly live side by side in peace.
Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Lagos; editing by Philippa Fletcher