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MADALLA (AFP) – A suspected bomb blast near a Catholic church today in Madalla, Suleja, Niger state on Christmas morning killed at least 15 people, a rescue source said, as workers rushed to provide ambulances for the dead and wounded.
Another explosion was heard later in the day in the central city of Jos near a church, but details were not immediately available, residents said.
The area around the scene of the blast outside the capital Abuja degenerated into chaos after the explosion, with angry youths starting fires and threatening to attack a nearby police station.
Police shot into the air to disperse them and closed a major highway. Emergency officials called for more ambulances as rescuers sought to evacuate the dead and wounded.
Emergency officials initially said the blast happened in the church, but later said it occurred near it, with the impact felt inside the church, which was also damaged. The area, located outside the capital Abuja, was cordoned off and journalists could not gain access to the church.
“We have in these three vehicles (ambulances) 15 corpses,” the rescue source told AFP at the scene on condition of anonymity. He said the toll was likely to be higher since he believed other rescuers were also pulling out bodies.
National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Yushau Shuaib called the incident a “suspected bomb blast” and confirmed 10 dead.
The blast went off near the St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, outside Abuja.
Shuaib could not say how many people were inside the church at the time. Police also confirmed the explosion but could not immediately provide details.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although Nigeria has been rocked by scores of bomb blasts and shootings attributed to Islamist group Boko Haram.
The group claimed responsibility for the August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed at least 24 people. There have been a number of attacks in Suleija area, also outside Abuja.
A string of bomb blasts in the central city of Jos on Christmas Eve 2010 were claimed by Boko Haram.
In recent days in three cities in the northeast, where most of the violence attributed to Boko Haram has occurred, attacks blamed on the sect followed by a heavy military crackdown killed up to 100 people, authorities and a rights group have said.
The chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, was quoted by local media as saying soldiers killed 59 Boko Haram members in the northeastern city of Damaturu. Shootouts had taken place on Thursday and Friday.
Others said the total death toll on all sides — authorities, extremists and civilians — could be as high as 100.
A purported spokesman for Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the initial violence in the three northeastern cities, saying they were revenge for a brutal military assault against the sect in 2009.
Violence blamed on the sect has steadily worsened in recent months, with bomb blasts becoming more frequent and increasingly sophisticated and death tolls climbing.
The attacks have continued despite well publicised raids on so-called bomb factories and arrests of a number of alleged Boko Haram members by authorities.
There has been intense speculation over whether Boko Haram has formed links with outside extremist groups, including Al-Qaeda’s north African branch.
The group is believed to have a number of factions with varying aims.
It launched an uprising in 2009 that was put down by a brutal military assault which left some 800 dead as well as its mosque and headquarters in the northeastern city of Maiduguri in ruins.
It went dormant for about a year before re-emerging in 2010 with a series of assassinations.