A suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a church in the Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, killing two people and wounding 38, which led to Christian youths beating two Muslims to death in revenge.

A Reuters reporter at the scene of the blast saw two of the bodies, which police said included the suicide bomber, who had rammed his Volkswagen into the church before detonating the explosives.

Security forces cordoned off the area, while Christian youths established a roadblock where they dragged two Muslim men off their motorbikes and beat them to death, police said.

The Reuters reporter saw the bodies of the two men on the roadside in Jos, a city flanked by volcanic boulders in Nigeria's rocky Middle Belt, where its largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet.

Ethnic and religious tensions run high in the city and other parts of the surrounding region, which has seen hundreds killed in bouts of intercommunal violence in the past decade.

NEMA [National Emergency Management Agency] confirms three dead in suspected suicide car explosion in Jos today, including the bomber whose body was shredded to pieces, NEMA representative Yushua Shuaib said in a text message. As of now 38 victims have been admitted to hospital for treatment. NEMA and the Red Cross have completed evacuation [of the church].

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has targeted churches as part of its growing campaign of violence against the government.

I heard a loud explosion near the church and I hit the ground. It shook buildings, local resident Ishayaa Makut said.

Sectarian Tension

Attacks on churches have raised fears the sect, styled on the Taliban and whose name means Western Education Is Forbidden, is trying to ignite sectarian strife in Nigeria, Africa's No. 1 oil producer.

Another bomb exploded close to a church in the Nigerian town of Suleja, on the edge of the capital Abuja, on Sunday, wounding five people.

In controlled explosions, police detonated two bombs on Sunday that had been planted at the police barracks in Gombe, a northeastern city that had been largely free of the Islamist insurgency until this weekend, Gandi Orubebe, police commissioner for Gombe, said by telephone.

On Friday, Gombe was shaken a series of explosions as gunmen attempted a prison break that killed 12 people.

Boko Haram, in a drive to have sharia law more widely applied across the continent's most populous nation, has become increasingly sophisticated and deadly in its methods in the past six months. It has widened its targets beyond attacks on police and other authority figures to include Christians.

Its fighters rarely use suicide bombers. The first proven case of such a tactic was last August, when a Boko Haram militant drove a vehicle full of explosives into the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, killing 25 people.

A series of bombs struck churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day, including one that hit a Catholic Church in Madala, just outside Abuja, killing 37 people and wounding 57, and one in Jos. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the blasts.

The country of 160 million is split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims, who mostly live side by side in peace.

(Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Lagos; Editing by Sophie Hares)