A SERIES of Christmas Day bomb attacks across Nigeria that left at least 39 people dead has drawn widespread international condemnation.
Radical Muslim sect Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the blasts – including some on churches – which Foreign Secretary William Hague denounced as “cowardly”.
The Muslim Council of Britain also condemned the blasts as “reprehensible”.
The first explosion struck during Christmas Mass at St Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, near Nigeria’s capital Abuja, killing 35 people and wounding another 52.
A second blast hit Jos near the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church, and one officer died when gunmen opened fire on police guarding the area.
By noon, explosions echoed through the streets of the northern city of Damaturu. Three people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives at the state headquarters of Nigeria’s secret police, the State Security Service said.
There were also reports of a blast at a church in the north-eastern town of Gadaka.
Damaturu and Gadaka are both in Yobe state, where fighting between security forces and Boko Haram militants has left more than 60 people dead in recent days.
The assaults come a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombings in Jos claimed by the militants left at least 32 dead and 74 wounded.
Mr Hague said yesterday: “I condemn today’s bomb attacks in or near churches in Nigeria.
“These are cowardly attacks on families gathered in peace and prayer to celebrate a day which symbolises harmony and goodwill towards others.”
Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Farooq Murad said: “There is nothing in our faith of Islam that can condone attacks on places of worship or on Christians as we have seen today.
“The attacks take place at the most important celebrations for Christians, it is offensive and Muslims condemn such actions. It threatens the fragile state of relations between Muslims and Christians, which has been peaceful in the past.
“Sectarian attacks as we have seen in Nigeria and in Iraq last week are reprehensible – people who claim to carry out such carnage in the name of Islam are completely mistaken and are as much enemy of Muslims as anyone else.”
The White House denounced the “senseless” violence, while the Vatican branded the attacks a sign of “cruelty and absurd, blind hatred” that showed no respect for human life.
Pope Benedict XVI said only respect and reconciliation can bring peace – not violence.
Speaking at his post-Christmas blessing in Rome, Benedict said he had learned with “profound sadness” of the attack on the St Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla. Benedict invited everyone to pray for the victims and Nigeria’s Christian community.
The Pope said: “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.”
President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, condemned the blasts as a “unwarranted affront on our collective safety and freedom”.
He sought to reassure all Nigerians that the government would not relent in its determination to bring to justice all the perpetrators of acts of violence.