BAUCHI, Nigeria — A suicide car bomber drove into a church compound in northern Nigeria Sunday and detonated his explosives as worshippers left an early morning service, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens more, officials and witnesses said.
The bomber targeted the Living Faith church, in a neighborhood near the airport in Bauchi, the capital of Bauchi state. The timed blast caught many people outside the church without any cover to protect themselves from the explosion, causing heavy casualties, witnesses said.
At least 15 people died in the blast, not counting the suicide bomber, the Nigerian Red Cross said, while more than 30 people suffered injuries.
Bauchi state police commissioner Mohammed Ladan said security personnel stationed near the church compound stopped the car from getting any closer to worshippers than it did.
The powerful blast from the car destroyed part of the Living Faith Church, sending walls of the building crashing down on worshippers still inside. Others suffered burns in the blast.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though the attack comes as Nigeria faces a growing wave of sectarian violence carried out by a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north, has been blamed for killing more than 530 people this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The sect's targets have included churches, often attacked by suicide car bombers.
Boko Haram, which speaks to journalists through telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday. The group has been largely quiet since claiming a suicide car bombing and another attack at offices of the Nigerian newspaper ThisDay on April 26 that killed at least seven people.
Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million people, is split between a largely Muslim north and Christian south.
___Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria, and can be reached at . http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellap