, JOS, Dec 24) – An explosion in central Nigeria on Friday killed at least eight people, police said, with the incident having occurred in an area where sectarian clashes have left hundreds dead this year.
It occurred on the same day suspected Islamist sect members attacked a church during Christmas Eve services in northern Nigeria, but there was no immediate indication they were linked. No one was reported killed in the church attack.
Police also cautioned that the cause of the explosion had not been established.
"It has been confirmed that eight people were killed and eight injured," national police spokesman Yemi Ajayi told AFP of the blast in the flashpoint city of Jos. "There was an explosion."
The state information commissioner said by phone he had received reports of several explosions and some 20 people killed, but police cast doubt on the information.
The commissioner, Gregory Yenlong, also said there had been rumours of attacks aimed at disrupting Christmas celebrations in recent days.
A spokesman for police in Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, refused to comment, saying the police commissioner planned to brief journalists on Saturday.
Jos is in the so-called middle-belt region between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south and has long been a hotspot of ethnic and religious friction in Nigeria.
Local rights groups say 1,500 people have died in inter-communal violence in the Jos region since the start of this year alone.
Many observers say the violence has resulted from politicians stoking ethnic divisions in a local struggle for power.
In the separate incident in the northern city of Maiduguri, assailants believed to be members of the sect known as Boko Haram were repelled by the military after a gun battle and no worshippers were hurt, a military spokesman said.
"Soldiers have succeeded in repelling an attack on NCC church around the Polo area of the city," Lieutenant Abubakar Abdullahi told AFP of the attack in the city of Maiduguri.
"An unspecified number of gunmen opened fire around the church and a military patrol team stationed in the area responded and a gun battle lasted for a few minutes.
"The gunmen who are suspected to be members of Boko Haram fled without causing any damage to the church or hurting the worshippers."
The sect launched an uprising in Nigeria\’s north last year that ended with a police and military assault which left hundreds dead. Its mosque and headquarters in Maiduguri were also destroyed.
Sect members have been blamed for a series of attacks in recent months, including shootings of police officers and community leaders as well as raids on police posts and a prison.
Nigeria will hold elections in April and observers have warned of an increase in violence as the polls approach.
In addition to violence in the Jos region and in the north, militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta have carried out scores of attacks in recent years, including kidnappings of foreign oil workers and sabotage of pipelines.
Nigeria is Africa\’s most populous country with 150 million people and one of the world\’s largest oil producers.