Profile of group in Nigeria calling for Islamic law to be implemented throughout country.
At least 40 people have been killed by an explosion outside a church near the Nigerian capital during Christmas celebrations, according to a relief worker.
Witnesses also reported a string of other attacks, including a bomb and gun attack in the central town of Jos, two explosions in the northeastern town of Damaturu and one in the town of Gadaka, also in the northeast.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the scene of the first attack in the town of Madalla, a satellite of the capital of Abuja, said the attacker triggered an explosion after failing to gain access to the church on Sunday morning.
A relief worker told Idris at least 25 bodies were removed from the carnage. The source added that six of the bodies had been mutilated.
“I am standing near a huge crater left in the road. The damage to structures and buildings can be seen from 150m away. The church and surrounding shops and homes were also damaged,” our correspondent said.
“At least eight cars and two motorcycles were burnt beyond recognition.”
The explosion at the St Theresa Church in Madalla on Christmas morning was confirmed by Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency.
“Mass just ended and people were rushing out of the church and suddenly I heard a loud sound …. Cars were in flames and bodies littered everywhere,” Nnana Nwachukwu, a witness, told Reuters.
“The blast occurred on the road by the church and not inside the church. I happen to also live close by the church. Help was very slow in coming to the injured.”
The emergency agency reported that it did not have enough ambulances available to evacuate the dead and the wounded, according to Reuters.
Al Jazeera’s Idris reported that local hospitals did not have the facilities to properly treat the wounded, and that they were being transferred to other hospitals in the capital.
Angry youths set up burning road blocks on a main highway leading out of Abuja after the attack in protest.
Series of explosions
A government official said a second explosion also struck near a church, this time targeting a congregation in the central Nigerian city of Jos, killing a policeman.
The explosion at the Mountain of Fire Church was followed by a gun battle between police and the attackers, Charles Ezeocha, a special taskforce spokesman for Jos, said. He said that police made four arrests after the clash.
Police found four other explosive devices in Jos, which they then defused, he said.
Military personnel moved in to secure the areas around the blasts in Jos and Madalla following the attacks.
Another explosion was reported to have taken place at a church in the northeastern town of Gadaka, in Yobe state. Residents said there were many wounded in that attack, but no confirmed figures were immediately available.
Police said a fourth explosion was triggered by a suicide bomber at the state security service building in Damaturu, also in Yobe. That blast killed four security officials and the bomber, they said.
Another explosion was also reported to have taken place in Damaturu on Sunday, but no further details were available.
Boko Haram claims responsibility
Boko Haram, an extremist group that advocates the enforcement of strict Islamic law in Nigeria, claimed responsibility for Sunday’s church bombings.
Abu Qaqa, a spokesman for the group, claimed responsibility for the bombings in a statement to the journalists’ association of Maiduguri, capital of the group’s heartland.
The Nigerian government also blamed Boko Haram for the attacks.
“The latest mindless and cowardly attacks by Boko Haram members specifically directed at churches were pre-meditated,” Owoye Azazi, Nigeria’s national security advisor, said in a statement.
Jos was the site of a string of explosions targetting churches on Christmas eve last year. Those bombings were also claimed by Boko Haram.
Father Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican, condemned the blasts as “terrorist violence”.
“We are close to the suffering of the Nigerian Church and the entire Nigerian people so tried by terrorist violence, even
in these days that should be of joy and peace,” Lombardi told Reuters.
Sunday’s attacks come after days of battles between Boko Haram and security forces left more than 60 people dead near Maiduguri and Damaturu.