A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives Sunday morning on a busy road after apparently turning away from attacking Nigerian churches holding Easter services, killing at least 38 people in a massive blast that rattled a city long at the center of religious, ethnic and political violence in the nation.
The blast struck Kaduna city, capital of Kaduna state, leaving charred motorcycles and debris strewn across a major road in the city where many gather to eat at informal restaurants and buy black-market gasoline. Nearby hotels and homes had their windows blown out and roofs torn away by the force of the explosion, which engulfed a group of motorcycle taxi drivers.
At least 38 people were killed in the blast, said Abubakar Zakari Adamu, a spokesman for the Kaduna state Emergency Management Agency. Others suffered serious wounds and were receiving treatment at local hospitals, Adamu said.
The explosion damaged nearby All Nations Christian Assembly Church and ECWA Good News Church as worshippers attended Easter services, the possible target of the bomber. Witnesses said it appeared the explosive-laden car tried to go into the compound of the churches before it detonated but was blocked by barriers in the street and was turned away by a security guard as police approached.
Churches have been increasingly targeted by violence on holy days in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people of Christians and Muslims. A Christmas Day suicide bombing of a Catholic church in Madalla near Nigeria's capital, Abuja, killed at least 44 people.
Authorities said they had no immediate suspects in the attack, though a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the past.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, is waging an increasingly bloody fight with security agencies and the public. More than 380 people have been killed in violence blamed on the sect this year alone, according to an Associated Press count.
The sect, employing suicide bombers and assault rifles, has attacked both Christians and Muslims, as well as the United Nations' headquarters in Nigeria.
The sect has rejected efforts to begin indirect peace talks with Nigeria's government. Its demands include the introduction of strict Shariah law across the country, even in Christian areas, and the release of all imprisoned followers.
Kaduna, on Nigeria's dividing line between its largely Christian south and Muslim north, was at the heart of post-election violence in April 2011. Mobs armed with machetes and poison-tipped arrows took over streets of Kaduna and the state's rural countryside after election officials declared President Goodluck Jonathan the winner. Followers of his main opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, quickly alleged the vote had been rigged, though observers largely declared the vote fair.
Across the nation, at least 800 people died in that rioting, Human Rights Watch said.