The Christmas morning bomb shook the Nigerian church as worshippers were filing out after mass. Some of those caught in the blast ran towards a priest with dying pleas for blessings.
One man who sought him out had suffered mortal wounds to the stomach.
“It was really terrible,” Father Christopher Barde said. “People ran towards me, (saying) ‘Father anoint me.’”
Nigeria was hit by five bomb attacks on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with three churches among the targets, leaving at least 40 people dead nationwide.
The violence, claimed by Islamist group Boko Haram, underscored the country’s inability to stop the extremists, who have carried out scores of attacks, mainly in Nigeria’s northeast.
The worst of the Christmas attacks was at Saint Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, outside Abuja, where the explosion tore through the roof and left holes in the wall.
Blood was splattered outside, and at least 35 people were killed there, many cut down as they were leaving the church.
Church officials rushing to assist victims were helpless without ambulances, and their pleas for people to bring their cars to help went unheeded with everyone fleeing fearing another bomb.
“We started begging people to bring their vehicles, but they were afraid that another bomb will explode,” said Francis Aniezue, a church rector. “A man (was) shouting for help, but he gave up.”
Aniezue said he and others used church vehicles to evacuate victims.
Chaos broke out around the church after the blast, with angry youths setting fires and threatening to attack a police station. Police shot in the air to disperse them and shut down a major road to allow rescuers to go to work.
Another priest, Isaac Achi, pointed to burnt cars left near the church and mourned the dead.
“You can see so many vehicles burnt,” he said. “The owners couldn’t come out. The vehicle you see on the road there, it’s a whole household. Five people inside that vehicle died.
“I was made to understand that the wife couldn’t come to church, but the husband and four children — all gone. Pregnant mothers, sucklings, all are affected.”
Benjamin Ekwegbali, a social worker at the church, described scenes of horror and destruction, with “corpses littered everywhere.”
“When the mass was over, all of us were coming out,” he said.
“I had just walked past the front of the church when I heard an explosion. Very loud sound. It shook everywhere. When I looked back to see what happened, it was difficult to see anything. Everywhere was dark. Fire was burning. People were running helter skelter.”
A bomb exploded later outside an evangelical church hundreds of miles away in the central city of Jos, killing a policeman, according to a spokesman for the governor.
Sunday’s attacks also included a suicide bombing in the northeastern city of Damaturu, where four people including the bomber were killed.
Nigerian police affairs minister Caleb Olubolade visited the Saint Theresa church, offering pledges that the government would face up to the violence, but giving no specifics.
“This is like an internal war against the country,” he said. “So we have to really live up to it and face it squarely.”
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