Rescuers searched for bodies and hospitals struggled to find blood Monday after suicide attacks on three churches in Nigeria and subsequent rioting killed at least 45 and wounded more than 100.
The attacks in northern Kaduna state that led to reprisal violence which saw Christian youths target Muslims with machetes and clubs were the latest in a wave of Sunday church bombings in Africa’s most populous nation.
There was no claim of responsibility for the bombings, but Islamist group Boko Haram has carried out scores of such attacks.
Suicide bombers attacked two churches in the city of Zaria and one in the city of Kaduna, killing at least 16 people, police spokesman Frank Mba said in a statement.
After news of the blasts spread, Christian youths took to the main motorway that leads to the capital Abuja, attacking motorists who looked Muslim.
Christian mobs carrying machetes and clubs also prowled the streets of Kaduna city on Sunday, the Red Cross said.
“Many of them need surgery, but a shortage of blood is stalling treatment,” a Red Cross official in Kaduna said of the wounded on Monday. “We’re still going about looking for more bodies in these neighborhoods.”
Officials put the state – which last year saw rioting that left more than 600 people dead in the wake of presidential elections – under curfew for 24 hours.
“As of last night, around 10 pm, the death toll stood at 45,” a rescue official said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to issue death tolls. “The death toll is expected to rise when we get updated.”
More than 100 people were injured in the day of violence, according to the National Emergency Management Agency.
The first blast struck ECWA Goodnews Church in the Wusasa area of Zaria city early Sunday. The second explosion went off 10 minutes later at the Christ the King Catholic church in Zaria’s Sabongari area, a police statement said.
The third blast hit the Shalom Church in Kaduna city moments later.
A worshipper said he saw a bomber drive an explosives-packed car into the church building.
“Right away the car exploded and killed a soldier and two private security guards guarding the church,” Joseph Emmanuel told AFP.
The violent response by Christian youth mobs that followed the attacks was termed “a momentary breakdown of law and order,” in the police statement.
The police chief urged “criminal elements who have been carrying out campaigns of violence on innocent Nigerians and institutions to desist forthwith,” in the statement issued from Abuja.
He also said a massive deployment of forces had been ordered across “every nook and cranny of the state.”
One Kaduna resident said it was not safe to travel on Sunday.
“I cancelled my trip to Abuja because of the huge number of rioters that have taken over the roads,” the man told AFP.
The latest church blasts resembled those previously claimed by Boko Haram, responsible for more than 1,000 deaths since mid-2009.
The Islamist group has already this month claimed two attacks that struck churches during Sunday prayers, including a suicide blast in Bauchi state that left at least 15 dead.
Nigeria’s population of 160 million is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.