People gather around a car used by a suicide bomber at a catholic church in Jos, Nigeria, on Sunday, March 11, 2012. 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. (AP Photos)
JOS, Nigeria (AP) — A suicide car bomber attacked a Catholic church Sunday in the middle of Mass, killing at least 10 people in the blast and the retaliatory violence that followed after the latest assault targeting a church in a central Nigerian city plagued by unrest, officials said.
The bomb detonated as worshippers attended the final Mass of the day at St. Finbar's Catholic Church in Jos, a city where thousands have died in the last decade in religious and ethnic violence. Security at the gate of the church's compound stopped the suspicious car and the bomber detonated his explosives during an altercation that followed, Plateau state spokesman Pam Ayuba said.
The blast damaged the church's roof, blew out its windows and destroyed a portion of the fence surrounding the church's compound, Ayuba said.
"He destroyed so many things," the spokesman said.
The bombing sparked retaliatory violence in Jos later Sunday, with angry youths burning down homes and soldiers guarding the city opening fire in neighborhoods, witnesses said. Ayuba said at least 10 people died in the bombing, though others said the number of dead included those killed in retaliatory attacks. Soldiers also were wounded in the blast.
No group immediately claimed responsibility though the city has been targeted in the past by a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. The sect claimed a series of bombings in Jos on Christmas Eve in 2010 that killed as many as 80 people. The sect also claimed a similar church bombing on Feb. 26 on the main headquarters of the Church of Christ that killed three people and wounded 38 others.
The sect, which speaks to journalists through telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday.
Jos and surrounding Plateau state have been torn apart in recent years by violence pitting its different ethnic groups and major religions — Christianity and Islam — against each other. Human Rights Watch says at least 1,000 people were killed in communal clashes around Jos in 2010.
The violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands. Muslims in the city also say they are locked out of lucrative jobs in the region as the Christian-led state government doesn't recognize them as citizens.
The Catholic church attack also comes after a failed raid Thursday by British and Nigerian commandos left a Briton and an Italian hostage dead in Nigeria's far northwest. British officials have blamed a splinter cell of Boko Haram for the attack, something a spokesman for the group has denied.
However, the attack has opened a new front on Nigeria's ongoing struggle with terrorism, showing any region across the nation's Muslim north can be attacked — and anyone, including foreigners, could be targeted.
Meanwhile Sunday, police said two separate attacks in northeast Nigeria blamed on the sect killed two people. One attack happened at a paramilitary police base in the town of Bama in Borno state, while the other happened during the day in Maiduguri, the sect's spiritual home, authorities said.
Associated Press writer Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell reported from Kano, Nigeria and can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.