Bomb blasts struck two churches in Nigeria on Sunday as worshippers were attending Christmas Day services, stirring memories of strikes against Nigerian churches during last year’s Christmas season.
The first explosion struck near a Catholic church in Madala, west of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, the National Emergency Management Agency said.
The agency said there were at least 17 bodies in the morgue at the National Hospital, and officials were still trying to confirm the total number of dead, local journalist Alkasim Abdulkadir said from Abuja.
A second attack struck the Mountain of Fire Ministries church in the city of Jos, northeast of the capital, said journalist Hassan John, who witnessed the aftermath of the two blasts that targeted the church.
No one was killed in the bombing, which John called a “miracle,” but a policeman who engaged the attackers in a gun battle died of his wounds later, the journalist said, citing officials.
Catholic Church officials were trying to get a picture of what happened in the hours after the attack on the Madala church.
“Lives have been lost but we do not have the details,” said the Rev. Michael Ekpenyong, speaking about the first bombing. “The area has been cordoned off. I tried to call the priest but I couldn’t get through.”
Ekpenyong, the secretary general of the country’s Catholic Secretariat, said the church that was bombed was “not a big church, but lots of people attend.”
Photos from the scene showed burned-out cars and at least three bodies on the ground, one covered with a blanket, at the rural church.
Usman Abdallah Baba, who witnessed the bombing, said there were at least 15 or 16 casualties and that authorities were still counting the toll.
He said local people were already blaming the violent extremist Muslim Boko Haram sect, which has targeted Christians as well as Muslims its members consider insufficiently Islamic.
The second church, in Jos, was hit by two explosions when young men threw bombs, said John, the journalist at the scene.
Police responded quickly and exchanged gunfire with the attackers, who injured at least one of the police officers, he said.
The injured officer was rushed to the Jos University teaching hospital for medical attention, but died of his wounds, John said.
There were about five attackers, one with an AK-47. They fled into the crowd and disappeared after the attack, John said.
Police arrested four people and recovered four unexploded devices, Nigerian state television reported.