Nigeria bombings escalate
Lagos - Attackers threw a bomb into an Arabic school in mainly Christian southern Nigeria, wounding six children and an adult, police said on Wednesday, after Christmas attacks sparked fears of sectarian clashes.
Meanwhile, some 90 000 people were displaced in the hard hit northeastern city of Damaturu after clashes between Islamist group Boko Haram and security forces last week, with officials rushing to provide relief materials.
Christmas bombings blamed on Boko Haram that killed 40 people occurred in several locations in Nigeria, with the deadliest an explosion outside a church near the capital Abuja as services were ending.
Nigerian leaders have been seeking to calm tensions amid fears the Christmas attacks could set off sectarian clashes in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
It was not clear who was behind the bomb attack at the Arabic school in Delta state, located in the oil-producing Niger Delta region.
While scores of explosions have occurred in the delta in recent years, they have mainly targeted oil installations and have not taken on a sectarian dimension.
"A locally made low-capacity explosive was thrown into an Arabic school in Sapele at 22:00 yesterday," said state police spokesperson Charles Mouka.
"It was thrown from an unidentified moving car... Six children and one adult were wounded."
The children are between five and eight years old, he said, and had been at the school for evening Arabic and Koranic lessons. The area around the school, which has about 50 students, has been cordoned off, Mouka said.
Christian leaders have urged authorities to take action against spiralling violence blamed on Boko Haram, with deep frustration over their seeming inability to stop attacks despite heavy-handed military crackdowns.
A Christian leader in Nigeria's north has warned that "religious war" could result if the problem is not addressed, though he urged Christians not to retaliate.
Nigeria's top Muslim spiritual leader met President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday over the Christmas attacks and afterwards said the violence did not signal a religious conflict.
"I want to assure all Nigerians that there is no conflict between Muslims and Christians, between Islam and Christianity," Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar told journalists after the 90-minute meeting.
"It's a conflict between evil people and good people. The good people are more than the evil ones, so the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones, and that is the message."
Jonathan did not speak publicly after the meeting, but his national security adviser urged Christians to avoid retaliating over the Christmas bombings.
"We are Nigerians. I don't see any major conflict between the Christian community and Muslim community," Owoye Azazi said.
"Retaliation is not the answer, because if you retaliate, at what point will it end? Nigeria must survive as a nation."
Violence had been raging even in the days before the Christmas bombings, especially in the northeastern cities of Damaturu, Potiskum and Maiduguri. Most violence attributed to Boko Haram has occurred in the northeast.
In Damaturu, an estimated 90 000 people were displaced, an emergency official said, while a police source and rights group earlier said up to 100 were feared killed.
"Some of the displaced have lost their homes, while others just fled for their security," said Ibrahim Farinloye of the National Emergency Management Agency.
"We advised the displaced against moving into any temporary camp for security reasons, therefore most of them are sheltering in the homes of friends and relatives in the city and neighbouring villages."
In the wake of the clashes and Christmas Day attacks in Damaturu, hundreds of residents could be seen seeking to flee the city, waiting by the roadside or at depots for taxis or buses.
The city centre was largely deserted and tense soldiers armed with rifles patrolled.