Nigerian security officials foiled an attempt to bomb a church during a packed Sunday service in Bauchi city.
The explosive, an improvised bomb concealed in a metal casing, was swiftly diffused once police were alerted by witnesses who saw a man leave the United Methodist church after dropping off a bag.
The unknown bomber fled the scene on a commercial motorcycle after alarmed church members pursued him.
Experts believe the device would have killed many, and destroyed much of the building had it exploded.
“The perpetrators of this act are terrorists. We have detonated the bomb. The impact would have been devastating,” head of the State Security Service Adeola Ajayi said.
An investigation into the attack has been launched, with Ajayi appealing for the public to report any relevant information to security agents.
Meanwhile, at a news conference following the attempted attack, the state’s police commissioner, Muhammad Indabawa, has urged people to be alert and report any suspicious persons to security officials.
The incident is the latest in a string of sectarian clashes close to the Nigerian “Middle Belt,” a separation between the principally Islamic North and the mainly Christian south, sparked by the multiple Christmas Eve bombings that left 32 dead.
Last week, at least 19 people were killed, and several buildings including churches and mosques burnt down when a snooker game led to a deadly fight between Christian and Muslim youths in Tafawa Balewa.
Over 200 people have died in violence between religious and ethnic groups in the past month, according to Human Rights Watch.
Though the population is evenly divided between the two religious groups, the majority of the recent violence outbreaks were reportedly triggered by land ownership disputes and economic or political motives.