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Boko Haram claims responsibility for Nigeria church bombings

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Mon June 18, 2012
Bystanders outside Sharon Church after it was hit by a suicide bomb attack in Kaduna, Nigeria, on Sunday.
Bystanders outside Sharon Church after it was hit by a suicide bomb attack in Kaduna, Nigeria, on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Militant Islamic group says it's behind three attacks Sunday in cities of Zaria and Kaduna
  • The attacks and retaliatory violence left at least 50 people dead, Red Cross says
  • Boko Haram says the bombings were retaliation for attacks on mosques

Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) -- A militant Islamist group claimed responsibility Monday for bombings the day before that the Nigerian Red Cross said left 50 people dead at three Christian churches in Nigeria.

Boko Haram said the attacks Sunday in the Nigerian cities of Zaria and Kaduna were retaliation on Christians for destroying mosques and, according to the group, turning others into "beer parlour and prostitution joints."

"Let them know that now it's the time for revenge God willing," the group said in a statement. "From now on, they either follow the right religion or there will be no peace for them."

Government and Red Cross figures on the death toll in Sunday's attacks differed. However, the bombings at two churches and a third in Kaduna left at least 50 people dead and 131 wounded according to the Red Cross.

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Kaduna state officials loosened a 24-hour curfew imposed after the attacks, saying people could be on the streets from 2 to 6 p.m. However, resident Anthony Majindadi said most people were staying indoors and his area still looked like a ghost town.

The series of attacks began when a suicide bomber drove at high speed through a barricade at the EWCA Goodnews Wusasa Zaria church around 9 a.m., congregation member Lucy Bello said.

A Kaduna state official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that blast killed at least 24 people and injured 125.

The Nigerian Red Cross Society, however, reported that two people died and 22 were injured in the attack.

Within minutes, another explosion occurred at the Christ the King Catholic Church in Zaria, according to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency.

At least 10 people died and more than 50 were injured in that attack, the state government official said.

Again, the Nigerian Red Cross Society offered a conflicting report, saying 16 people died and 31 were injured in the attack.

Later, at least 10 people died in a bombing at a church in the city of Kaduna, Red Cross spokesman Andronicus Adeyemo said.

The Red Cross said 32 people died and 78 were injured in the third blast and ensuing reprisal attacks by Christians on Muslims.

Christian youths in Zaria and Kaduna burned mosques and property belonging to Muslims, according to the Vanguard newspaper in Nigeria.

Military forces patrolled the streets Sunday in an effort to control retaliatory violence, the Vanguard reported.

Kaduna state spokesman Reuben Buhari asked residents Monday to remain calm and cooperate with security forces.

The bombings are the latest in a string of violence directed at Nigerian churches. A week ago, a car bomb killed five people during services at a church in Jos, also in northern Nigeria. Angry crowds wielding makeshift clubs fought with police after chasing security forces away from the destroyed church. Three more people died in the clashes.

And two weeks ago, two church bombings in the region killed at least 15 people.

Boko Haram has previously carried out attacks, including at churches, according to government officials.

The group, whose name means "Western education is forbidden," has referred to itself as the "Nigerian Taliban." It seeks to overthrow the government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law.

CNN's Vladimir Duthiers and Nana Karikari-apau and journalist Safiya Akau contributed to this report.

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