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Wed Jul 23 13:59:47 SAST 2014

Victims describe horror of Nigeria church attack

Sapa-AFP | 28 December, 2011 13:53
An unidentified victim of the Christmas day bombing of a church recovers at a hospital in Nigeria's capital Abuja
An unidentified victim (C) of the Christmas day bombing of a church recovers at a hospital in Nigeria's capital Abuja
Image by: AFOLABI SOTUNDE / REUTERS

The bomb exploded as Esther Ibu walked out of the church, her five-month-old son in her arms, the power of the blast throwing her and the boy to the ground and leaving death all around her.

"Before I knew it, I started seeing dead bodies, people burning into ashes," the woman in her 30s said, sobbing as she sat in a wheelchair at a hospital in the capital holding her son and waiting to be x-rayed, her right leg bandaged.

Nigeria was hit by a wave of attacks on Christmas blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram that left at least 40 people dead, but it was the horrific bombing at a church near Abuja that has especially sent reverberations across the country.

Fears have been raised over the potential for fresh sectarian clashes in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

Nigeria's leaders have since been seeking to calm tensions, urging Christians not to retaliate, but authorities' seeming inability to stop Boko Haram despite heavy-handed military crackdowns has led to deep frustration.

An attack on Tuesday night raised further fears, with a bomb tossed into an Arabic and Koranic school in southern Nigeria's Delta state, wounding seven people, most of them children between five and eight years old.

The attack at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla outside Abuja occurred as Christmas morning services were ending. It left a gruesome scene, with body parts littering the ground and some of the wounded rushing toward a priest for last rites.

At least 35 were killed there and another 52 wounded, emergency officials have said.

Chukwueke Ajuwe, 30, saw his head, legs and one of his hands badly burnt in the explosion.

"After the service, I came out and was facing the church and suddenly I heard a deafening sound," he said while lying on a bed in the hospital's emergency unit, unbandaged despite obvious burns to his body.

"I was standing, but somehow I found myself under a burning car. My legs were burning. I tried to move away from there. I couldn't and I was just shouting, 'Jesus! Jesus!'"

He said he was eventually able to move his right leg.

"I supported it with the other left hand and my shoe pulled off," said Ajuwe. "I then ran away."

Esther Ibu said she had left the church and was waiting outside for her father to pick her up.

"We heard a very loud sound. I found myself on the ground and my son was out of my hand," she said, pausing as she sobbed.

"It was by the grace of God that I stood up, and I was like somebody that is drunk, and I was looking for my son Isaac."

She said she managed to find him nearby shortly afterward. He was somehow not seriously wounded.

"He was crying seriously," she said. "I picked him up and started running looking for my people."

Eventually she made it home, where she found her daughter, and then to the hospital. She was later brought to the national hospital in Abuja.

A reporter wheeled her to the x-ray room due to a shortage of staff at the hospital blamed on the Christmas holidays.

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Wed Jul 23 13:59:47 SAST 2014 ::