At least 38 people were killed Sunday as a suicide car bomber detonated powerful explosives on a busy road outside a church in Nigeria that was holding a morning Easter service.
The bomber apparently wanted to target All Nations Christian Assembly Church in Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna state, as churchgoers worshipped at an Easter service. ECWA Good News Church in the neighborhood was also affected.
The bomber first tried to enter into the gate of the All Nations church but was prevented from doing so by security guards, witnesses said.
"We were in the Holy Communion service and I was exhorting my people and all of a sudden, we heard a loud noise that shattered all our windows and doors, destroyed our fans and some of our equipment in the church," The Associated Press quoted Pastor Joshua Raji as saying.
"God saw our heart and saved us," a witness, Augustine Vincent, said. Vincent was riding a motorcycle just behind the car when it exploded.
At least 38 people were killed in the blast, according to the Kaduna state Emergency Management Agency. Others were receiving treatment at local hospitals.
Kaduna is one of the states that sit on the dividing line between Nigeria's largely Christian south and Muslim north and have witnessed sectarian violence killing hundreds. While no group claimed responsibility for the Easter attack, local Christians suspect it was launched by the local Islamist terror group Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sin," has been seeking to exploit tensions between sections of Muslims and Christians to make a case for the secession of the north from the south.
The actual name of the group is Jama'atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda'wati wal jihad, which translates as "people for the propagation of the prophet's teachings and jihad." Mohammad Yusuf, the Islamist cleric who formed the group about a decade ago in Maiduguri in the northeastern state of Borno, was against Western education. Yusuf was from the Salafi movement, which has fuelled jihadist terrorism in several parts of the world as a legitimate expression of Islam.
It is believed that Boko Haram has gained technical sophistication and weaponry with help from groups like al-Shabaab in southern Somalia and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The terror group, which also targets police and Muslim civilians, has warned that all Christians living in the north should move to the south unless they want to be killed.
Boko Haram's attacks escalated and Christians became one of the primary targets after the victory of President Jonathan, a Christian from the south and a leader of the People's Democratic Party, in the April 2011 election.