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Easter Bomber Strikes in Northern Nigeria

Security personnel inspect the mangled remains of bomb-laden car that exploded along junction road near a church, Kaduna, Nigeria, April 8, 2012.
Security personnel inspect the mangled remains of bomb-laden car that exploded along junction road near a church, Kaduna, Nigeria, April 8, 2012.

A bombing in northern Nigeria killed at least 20 people and wounded several others on Easter Sunday despite ramped-up security throughout the region. No one immediately claimed responsibility, though many suspect the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which is known to target Christians around holidays.

Police say a car laden with explosives blew up on a main city street in the northern city of Kaduna Sunday at 8:45 a.m. local time.

Witnesses said the explosion primarily hit motorcycle taxi drivers, panhandlers and women preparing street food.

Some suspect the intended target was a nearby Christian church.

Kaduna police spokesman Aminu Lawal told VOA that police are still investigating where the bomber was headed.

"The church also is situated by the roadside and it is not far from the roundabout so maybe he wanted to pass through there but when he discovered the security men were at alert then he could not be able to approach that particular area," said Lawal.

The leader of a Christian interfaith association in Kaduna, David Obadiah, arrived at the scene just after the blast.

He said emergency workers were rushing more than a dozen critically wounded people from the scene and the street was littered with burned-out motorcycles and what was left of the bomber's vehicle.

"Honestly one cannot say precisely that the target is a Christian church but today is Easter Sunday and at the time that the bomb was detonated, accidentally or whatever, it was during church services because people are about going to church and some were in the church already," said Obadiah.

He said he was worried that jumping to conclusions would lead to widespread panic.

Security was ramped up throughout northern Nigeria for Easter weekend after security forces said they thwarted several plots to attack Christians.

The extremist group Boko Haram is known to target Christians during holidays.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for Christmas Eve bombings in 2010 and Christmas Day attacks in 2011 that each killed dozens of people in northern Nigeria.

Security forces in the sect's northeastern base, Maiduguri, said they raided a militant hideout Sunday, killing three suspected Boko Haram members, arresting two others and recovering guns and ammunition. Authorities said the suspects were behind last week's attack on Christian traders in a city market that killed 11 people.

The Joint Task Force in Maiduguri also said it had discovered and disposed of an improvised explosive device planted in a city neighborhood Sunday afternoon.

Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 people since its resurgence in 2010.

Celebrating Easter Mass in Rome, Pope Benedict denounced what he called "savage terrorist attacks" in Nigeria.

Pope Benedict said he hopes the joy of Easter may grant Nigeria the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens.

The Nigerian government has struggled to contain the growing security threat as factions of varying extremism have split off from the core Boko Haram cell.

Boko Haram's name in the Hausa language means "Western education is sacrilege." The group wants to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria.