KADUNA, Nigeria (AP) — A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives Sunday at a Catholic church holding Mass in northern Nigeria, injuring a number of worshippers, officials and witnesses said.
The attack happened in the Malali neighborhood of Kaduna, a city on the dividing line between Nigeria's largely Christian south and Muslim north where religious rioting has killed hundreds in recent years. The car tried to force its way past the gate at St. Rita's Catholic church just before it exploded, witnesses at the church said.
Yushua Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, also said initial information suggested the attack was by a suicide bomber in a car. He said "a number of casualties" had been taken to local hospitals, but could not give a specific number.
Police officers and soldiers surrounded the site of the blast. Security officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as the Muslims in the nation are celebrating the Eid al-Adha holiday in Nigeria. In recent days, rumors have circulated that the radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram, which is responsible for hundreds of killings this year alone, might try to launch an attack during the holiday. The sect has demanded the release of all its captive members and has called for strict Shariah law to be implemented across the entire country. However, the group, which speaks to journalists in telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The sect has used suicide car bombs against churches in the past, most noticeably a 2011 Christmas Day attack on a Catholic church in Madalla near Nigeria's capital. That attack and assaults elsewhere in the country killed at least 44 people. An unclaimed car bombing on Easter in Kaduna killed at least 38 people on a busy roadway after witnesses say it was turned away from a church.
After the April 2011 presidential election, protests in Kaduna over Christian Goodluck Jonathan winning quickly turned into ethnic and religious violence that saw hundreds killed in that state alone.
Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria, and can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .