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Nigerians fear more attacks on churches

Women returned Monday to clean the blood from St. Theresa Catholic Church as a Nigerian Christian association demanded protection for its churches.

At least 35 people died at St. Theresa and dozens more were wounded Sunday as radical Muslim militants launched coordinated attacks across Africa's most populous nation within hours of one another. Four more people were killed in other violence blamed on the group known as Boko Haram.

Crowds gathered among the burned-out cars in the church's dirt parking lot Monday, angry over the attack and fearful that the group will target more of their places of worship.

It was the second year in a row that the extremists seeking to install Islamic Shariah law across the country of 160 million staged such attacks. Last year, a series of bombings on Christmas Eve killed 32 people in Nigeria.

The Rev. Father Christopher Jataudarde told the Associated Press that Sunday's blast happened as church officials gave parishioners white powder as part of a tradition celebrating the birth of Christ. Some already had left the church at the time of the bombing, causing the massive casualties.

At least 52 people were wounded in the blast, said Slaku Luguard, a coordinator with Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency.

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the bombing at his post-Christmas blessing Monday, urging people to pray for the victims and Nigeria's Christian community.

"In this moment, I want to repeat once again with force: Violence is a path that leads only to pain, destruction and death. Respect, reconciliation and love are the only path to peace," he said.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms" and called for the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors "of these reprehensible acts" to be brought to justice.

The African Union also condemned the attacks and pledged to support Nigeria in its fight against terrorism.

"Boko Haram's continued acts of terror and cruelty and absolute disregard for human life cannot be justified by any religion or faith," said a statement attributed to AU commission chairman Jean Ping.

Sunday, a bomb also exploded amid gunfire in the central Nigeria city of Jos and a suicide car bomber attacked the military in the nation's northeast. Three people died in those assaults.

After the bombings, a Boko Haram spokesman using the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"There will never be peace until our demands are met," the spokesman said. "We want all our brothers who have been incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the Sharia system, and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended."

Meanwhile, the northern state section of the powerful Christian Association of Nigeria issued a statement late Monday demanding government protection for its churches, warning that "the situation may degenerate to a religious war."

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