JOS, Nigeria (Reuters) - A suspected suicide attack hit a Catholic church in the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, killing three people, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.
A Reuters reporter on the scene was unable to gain access, as the police had cordoned off the area around the church.
Islamist sect Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a wave of bomb attacks on churches across Nigeria since Christmas Day. The bombing campaign has raised fears that the group is trying to ignite sectarian conflict in Africa’s most populous country, which is split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.
“NEMA officials are on the scene of a suspected suicide explosion at Finber’s Catholic Church, Rayfield, Jos. They are about to evacuate victims to hospital,” NEMA spokesman Yushau Shuaib said.
A Reuters witness watched angry Christians set up road blocks near the church. In the past, such a move has preceded retaliatory violence against Muslims.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” wants Sharia law more widely applied across Nigeria.
The sect has been waging an insurgency against Nigeria’s government since 2009, and has been blamed for hundreds of killings in gun and bomb attacks.
Styled on the Taliban, its methods have become more sophisticated in the past six months, and it has widened its targets beyond the police and other authority figures to include ordinary Christian civilians.
Jos has been scarred by ethnic and sectarian conflict for the last decade, and its churches have been targeted several times by bombers since Christmas.
On February 26 a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a church in Jos, killing two people and wounding 38. Christian youths beat two Muslims to death in revenge.
Other cities have also been affected.
A bomb at a Catholic Church in Madala, just outside the capital Abuja, killed 37 people and wounded 57 on Christmas Day. Another blast struck a church in Jos.
Boko Haram claimed the attacks, citing violence against Muslims by Christians in Jos as justification.
Despite its Islamist ideology, it is Muslims in the north of Nigeria who mostly bear the brunt of its attacks.
Suspected sect members shot dead a traditional ruler in the northeastern Gombe state, as he left a mosque after Friday prayers two days ago.
On Thursday, a Briton and an Italian held hostage in Nigeria were killed by their captors after being held for almost a year by what security officials said was a Boko Haram faction, although a spokesman for the sect denied any involvement.
Boko Haram used to be confined to Nigeria’s northeastern state of Borno. But the sect, or several factions of it, have expanded in the past six months to operate in at least 10 states across the north, and have struck the capital.
Additional reporting by Isa Abdulsalami; Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Osborn