A Muslim group in Nigeria identifying itself as Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'Awati Wal Jihad claimed responsibility Tuesday for Christmas Eve attacks on the cities of Jos and Maiduguri that killed at least 86 people.
The group is "avenging the atrocities committed against Muslims in those areas, and the country in general," according to a statement on its website. "Therefore we will continue with our attacks on disbelievers and their allies and all those who help them."
Multiple bomb blasts in Jos, capital of the central state of Plateau, targeted public places, including a Catholic church, killing at least 80 people, according to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency. Two churches were also attacked by gunmen on the same day in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state in northeast Nigeria, killing six people, said Mohammed Abubakar, the commissioner of police.
Africa's top oil producer and most populous country of more than 140 million people, roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south, has suffered periodic outbursts of sectarian violence. At least 14,000 people have died in ethnic and religious violence since 1999 in Nigeria, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
Sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims in Jos has left hundreds of people dead this year. At least 492 people were killed in an attack on a predominantly Christian village by Muslim Fulani herders near Jos on March 7, according to Civil Rights Congress, a rights group based in the northern city of Kaduna.
Police blamed the attack on Maiduguri Boko Haram, an Islamic sect opposed to western education and modeled after Afghanistan's Taliban.
The attacks in Jos sparked reprisal violence by rival gangs, prompting additional police and military reinforcements in the city. At least four people were killed and 20 houses burned in different parts of the city, Abdulrahman Akano, the police commissioner in charge of the city, told reporters Tuesday.
A special military task force deployed to help quell the violence Monday arrested three men who were trying to attack buildings with dynamite in the Dogon-Karfe district of the city, Captain Charles Okocha, a military spokesman, said at a news conference.