VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI deplored Sunday the "absured violence" against Christians after attacks on churches in Nigeria and the Philippines over the Christmas holiday.
Pope Benedict XVI Pic:AP/ Jens Meyer (above) Nigeria's attack central city of Jos REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
JOS, Nigeria — Nigerian soldiers patrolled the streets of the central city of Jos on Sunday after a series of Christmas Eve bomb blasts that killed dozens in attacks the army chief has labelled terrorism.
Authorities have sought to keep the violence from spreading in the region, which has been previously hit by sectarian clashes that have left hundreds dead this year and which officials say have been fueled by politics.
At least 32 people were killed and 74 wounded when seven explosions went off in two different areas of Jos on Friday evening, with many of the victims doing their Christmas shopping at the time. A church was also targeted, the state governor has said.
On the same night, suspected members of an Islamist sect that launched an uprising last year attacked three churches in northern Nigeria, leaving six people dead and one of the churches burnt.
There was no immediate indication the incidents in the vast country's north and central regions were linked.
Army Chief of Staff Azubuike Ihejirika told reporters in the southern oil city of Port Harcourt that the bomb blasts, which came ahead of elections set for April, amounted to "terrorism."
He said "the use of bombs is a terrorist dimension to it" and called for intelligence efforts to be intensified, local media reported.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan pledged that those behind the bombings would be hunted down and brought to justice.
Jos, the capital of Plateau state, has been particularly tense following the attacks, with the bombings marking a dramatic escalation in the violence there, which has often involved inter-communal clashes and reprisals.
A heavy deployment of soldiers could be seen in the streets on Sunday morning, and troops were stopping and searching cars.
The city is in the so-called middle-belt region between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south and has long been a hotspot of ethnic and religious friction in Nigeria.
Local rights groups say 1,500 people have died in inter-communal violence in the Jos region this year alone.
"The aim of the mastermind is to pit Christians against Muslims and spark off another round of violence that will eventually culminate in the scuttling of the ongoing electioneering activities," Plateau state governor Jonah David Jang said.
Observers have warned of an increase in violence in the run up to the April elections.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and one of the world's largest oil producers, faces tremendous challenges in organising the vote and is seeking to overcome a history of ballot fraud and violence.
A north-south rift within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party has added to tensions.
Some in the party, which has won every presidential vote since a return to civilian rule in 1999, argue the PDP should abandon Jonathan, a southerner, for a candidate from the north.
Ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar, who is from the north, is challenging Jonathan for the nomination, with the primary election set for January 13.
The argument is based on an agreement within the party that presidential candidates should be rotated between the north and south every two terms.
Jonathan took over in May after the death of Umaru Yar'Adua, a northerner who had not finished his first term.