Source: The Associated Press/The New York Times
A suicide car bomber struck on a busy road Sunday morning after apparently turning away from attacking Nigerian churches holding Easter services, killing at least 38 people in a huge blast that rattled a city long at the center of religious, ethnic and political violence in the nation.
The blast struck Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna state, leaving charred motorcycles and debris strewn across a major road in the city where many gather to eat at informal restaurants and buy black market gasoline. Nearby hotels and homes had their windows blown out and roofs torn away by the force of the explosion, which engulfed a group of motorcycle taxis.
The explosion badly damaged two nearby churches during an Easter service. Witnesses said it appeared the explosive-laden car attempted to go into the compound of the churches before it detonated, but was blocked by barriers in the street and turned away by a security guard as the police approached.
“We were in the holy communion service and I was exhorting my people, and all of a sudden we heard a loud noise that shattered all our windows and doors, destroyed our fans and some of our equipment in the church,” Pastor Joshua Raji said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack and the authorities said they had no immediate suspects, though a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has claimed similar attacks in the past. Some fear the bombing could further inflame tensions around Kaduna, a region on the dividing line between Nigeria’s largely Christian south and Muslim north.
At least 38 people were killed in the blast, said Abubakar Zakari Adamu, a spokesman for the Kaduna state Emergency Management Agency. Others suffered serious injuries and were receiving treatment at local hospitals.
A witness, Augustine Vincent, said he was riding a motorcycle just behind the car when it exploded. “God saw our heart and saved us,” he said.
Churches have been increasingly targeted by violence on holy days in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people. A Christmas Day suicide bombing in Madalla, near Nigeria’s capital, killed at least 44 people.
In his Easter speech at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI mentioned the continuing violence in Nigeria. Catholic churches have been targeted in previous attacks.
“To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens,” he said.
Britain’s Africa Minister Henry Bellingham condemned the attack, calling it a “horrific act.”
Kaduna, on Nigeria’s dividing line between its largely Christian south and Muslim north, was at the heart of postelection violence in April 2011. Mobs armed with machetes and poison-tipped arrows took over streets of Kaduna and the state’s rural countryside after election officials declared President Goodluck Jonathan the winner. Followers of his main opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, quickly alleged the vote had been rigged, though observers largely declared the vote fair.
Across the nation, at least 800 people died in that rioting, Human Rights Watch said. In the time since, heavily armed soldiers have remained on guard on roadways throughout Kaduna. In December, an explosion at an auto parts market in Kaduna killed at least seven people. Though authorities said it came from a leaking gas cylinder, the Nigerian Red Cross later said in an internal report the blast came from a bomb.
In February, bombs exploded at two major military bases near the city, injuring an unknown number of people.