ABUJA: Nigeria on Monday probed a wave of Christmas Day bomb attacks that killed at least 40 and was blamed on Islamists, including one blast that ripped through a crowd of worshippers exiting mass.
The government blamed Islamist sect Boko Haram for three attacks on Sunday, including bomb explosions at two churches — the deadliest as Christmas mass ended near the capital Abuja — and a suicide attack in the northeast.
A third church was targeted in the northeast on Christmas Eve, but no one was reported killed. Residents reported another explosion near a church in the northeastern city of Maiduguri late Sunday, but an army spokesman denied it.
The attack at St Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla outside Abuja killed at least 35 and left a gruesome scene, with rescuers picking up body parts and putting them in plastic bags while emergency workers pleaded for ambulances.
Some of the wounded, including one man whose entrails protruded from his body, ran toward a priest for final blessings.
The attacks drew widespread condemnation, including from the UN chief, Mr Ban Ki-moon, the United States and Britain.
Authorities and officials pledged to bring the attackers to justice, but the government in Africa's most populous nation has so far been unable to stop the Islamists, whose attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated and deadly.
The President, Mr Goodluck Jonathan condemned the violence and his national security adviser called it "unnecessary bloodletting by a group whose objectives are not in consonance with any genuine religious tenants."
While the government blamed Boko Haram and a purported spokesman for the sect claimed responsibility for the violence, conflicting accounts emerged of both the investigation and the attack in Madalla.
The spokesperson, Mr Richard Oguche for police in Niger state, where Madalla is located, said on Monday that authorities had not yet determined who was behind the attack.
"We are looking beyond Boko Haram because other people bent on destabilising the government might be doing these things in the name of Boko Haram," said Mr Richard Oguche.
Describing the attack, the National Security Adviser, Mr Owoye Azazi said attackers threw improvised explosive devices from a moving vehicle in Madalla, adding that “two of the criminals had been apprehended, caught in action.”
Mr Oguche said no one was arrested and the blast occurred after a minibus pulled up near the church. He added that three police officers were among those killed. “It was just about the time people were leaving the church and there was a (minibus),” said Mr Oguche.