KANO, Nigeria — A suicide bomber who tried to ram an explosives-packed car into a Nigerian church on Sunday killed a woman and an eight-year-old boy, while wounding dozens more, the Red Cross and police said.
The attacker targeted the St. John's Catholic Church in the northern city of Bauchi, where tight security was imposed after a wave church bombings claimed by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
Worshippers were being screened outside the building in the city's Wunti area when the bomber approached at roughly 9:00 am (0800 GMT).
"He couldn't reach the church ... because of the barriers," and so rammed his Opel Vectra sedan into the line of people waiting to enter Sunday services, Bauchi state police spokesman Mohammed Hassan said.
"We have three dead in all, including the bomber, a woman and a child. Forty-eight others were seriously injured in the explosion," said the head of the Red Cross in Bauchi state, Adamu Abubakar.
The woman was killed instantly, while the eight-year-old boy later died at a hospital, according to Hassan.
Suicide blasts targeting Christian Sunday services were a near-weekly occurrence in Nigeria earlier this year, but the violence had ebbed recently.
Further unrest was reported this weekend in neighbouring Yobe state, where authorities have imposed a round-the-clock curfew in two main cities as security forces hunt for suspected Boko Haram operatives.
Residents in the state capital Damaturu and the economic hub of Potiskum have been ordered "to remain indoors to enable security personnel to fish out Boko Haram terrorists," military spokesman Lieutenant Lazarus Eli said.
After the curfew was announced, suspected Boko Haram gunmen battled security forces in a shootout in the Sabon Fegi area of Damaturu, one of the Islamist group's strongholds.
Eli said troops arrested 25 militants following the gun battle and recovered a large cache of weapons.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Bauchi blast, the attack resembled those previously claimed by Boko Haram, blamed for killing more than 1,400 people in northern and central Nigeria since 2010.
It claimed a similar attack on June 3 in Bauchi city in which a suicide bomber killed at least 15 people at a church during Sunday worship.
Nigeria's military said that on Monday it killed the man who has claimed such attacks on behalf of the group when a Boko Haram spokesman who used the alias Abul Qaqa was reportedly shot dead outside the city of Kano.
Since re-launching its insurgency in 2010, the group's attacks have grown increasingly deadly and sophisticated, including suicide bombings at the United Nations headquarters in Abuja and an office of a prominent newspaper.
The deadliest attack so far was in Kano in January, when at least 185 people died in a series of coordinated bombings and shootings.
Muslims have often been its victims, but President Goodluck Jonathan has warned that the group was seeking to spark a religious conflict with the series of attacks on Christians.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, is divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
The government recently said it was engaging in back-channel talks in an effort to halt the violence.
A previous attempt at dialogue this year collapsed when a mediator quit over leaks to the media and a Boko Haram spokesman said they could not trust the government.
Boko Haram is believed to have several factions, including a hardcore Islamist wing.
Three of its leaders have been declared global terrorists by the United States, but Washington has resisted calls to slap a terrorism designation on the entire organisation on grounds that Boko Haram's primary focus is domestic.
It has said it wants to create an Islamic state in the north, but its demands have varied widely.
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