By AHMED SAKA and JON GAMBRELL
The Associated Press
Sunday, March 20, 2011; 9:17 AM
JOS, Nigeria -- A botched bombing near a church Sunday morning killed two people in a Nigerian city beset by religious and ethnic violence where hundreds have died in the last few months alone, authorities said.
The explosion comes after soldiers recently discovered a truck loaded with explosives, detonators and more than 33,000 pounds of ammunition in the troubled city of Jos. It also comes ahead of crucial April elections in Nigeria, which is Africa's most populous nation.
The bomb detonated as two people rode a motorcycle in the city of Jos, an epicenter of massacres and targeted killings between Christians and Muslims, Plateau state police commissioner Abdurrahman Akanu said. The blast destroyed shops around a nearby church, but didn't kill or injure any passers-by, he said.
"The two of them died and burned down beyond recognition," Akanu said.
The commissioner said police would continue to investigate the failed bombing. He did not offer any possible target for the attack.
Paramilitary police officers blocked journalists from the scene, though smoke could be seen rising from the neighborhood. Residents began taking all the possessions they could carry and fleeing the area.
Jos sits in Nigeria's "middle belt," where dozens of ethnic groups vie for control of fertile lands. Politics, jobs and land often motivate violence that falls along religious lines that has left thousands dead in recent years. Human Rights Watch says 200 people have died since December.
The city has been on edge since a series of bombs exploded there Christmas Eve, killing dozens. An Internet communique later claimed the attack for a radical Muslim sect operating in northeast Nigeria known locally as Boko Haram.
Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people, is almost evenly split between Muslims in the north and the predominantly Christian south.
Recent violence in central and northern Nigeria comes as President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian who took power after the death of Nigeria's elected Muslim leader, seeks the presidency.
Some believe a northern candidate should stand in Jonathan's place to appease an unwritten power-sharing agreement in the oil-rich nation's ruling party. That has caused considerable tension among the country's political elite, though it hasn't boiled over into violence.
Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria.