|Church officials decry suicide bombing at Nigerian parish|
Catholic News Service photo
Debris blocking a road burns after a bombing at St. Finbar Catholic Church in the Rayfield suburb of the Nigerian city of Jos, March 11. The bomb detonated as worshippers attended the final Mass of the day, killing at least 10 people at the church and in retaliatory violence.
Catholic News Service
LAGOS, Nigeria — Nine high-ranking Nigerian church leaders called upon the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to step up actions against an Islamic sect accused of targeting Christians in the northern part of the country.
Led by Lagos Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, the bishops of Lagos and the Ibadan region issued a statement March 14 denouncing the March 11 bombing of St. Finbar Church in Jos as Mass was being celebrated. The attack killed three worshippers and led to retaliatory violence that resulted in at least seven deaths around the city.
To salvage Nigeria's unity, the statement said, government security forces must do more to rein in the actions of Boko Haram.
"This leaves us in very little doubt that the Nigerian government and security authorities are simply not doing everything possible to stop the free range activities of Boko Haram," the bishops said.
Hours after the bombing, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, called the attack by a suicide car bomber an "evil, irrational, beastly and criminal" act.
Archbishop Kaigama also called on Christians to remain calm after the bombing and to resist committing retaliatory violence.
"We want those that are behind this crisis to come and seek dialogue rather than attacks," Archbishop Kaigama said hours after the bombing.
Father Peter Umoren, a parish priest, told journalists he had begun Mass when an explosion rocked the church.
"I was right on the pulpit when we heard the heavy explosion," Father Umoren said.
"The church building almost collapsed on the congregation, but God saved us, that the roof did not come down but the ceilings were shattered," he said.
That evening, gunmen killed three Christians in a village south of the city, said Pam Ayuba, Plateau state spokeswoman. She said officials did not believe the shootings were connected to the earlier church violence.
The incidents are the most recent in a decade-long conflict among Christians and Muslims that has claimed thousands of lives in and around Jos.
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, the Associated Press reported.
The bombing led to retaliatory violence by youths who set fire to homes. Soldiers guarding the city opened fire in neighborhoods, witnesses said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. Various sites in Jos have been targeted by Boko Haram, which the Nigerian government considers an extremist Islamist sect. The loosely connected organization has claimed credit for a series of bombings on Christmas Eve 2010 that killed as many as 80 people and a similar church bombing Feb. 26 on the headquarters of the Church of Christ that left three dead and 38 wounded.
Jonathan condemned the bombing and reaffirmed the government's determination "to end the space of mindless attacks and killings."