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The violence, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands. The government of Plateau state, of which Jos is the capital, is controlled by Christian politicians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens. That has locked many Muslims out of prized government jobs in a region where the tourism industry and tin mining have collapsed in the past decades.

Police and the army have declined to identify suspects in the Jos bombings, and state Gov. David Jang would say only that “we believe some highly placed people masterminded the attack.” Authorities, though, already have blamed the radical Muslim sect Boko Haram for the Christmas Eve church attacks.

The radical Muslim sect, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the Hausa language, was thought to be vanquished in 2009. Nigeria’s military crushed its mosque into concrete shards, and its leader was arrested and died in police custody.

But now, a year later, Maiduguri and surrounding villages again live in fear of the group, whose members have assassinated police and local leaders and engineered a massive prison break, officials say. Western diplomats worry that the sect is catching the attention of al Qaeda’s North Africa branch. It remains unclear what, if any, formal links al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has made with Boko Haram.

The holiday violence in Nigeria comes as the president, a Christian from the south of Nigeria, is trying to unify the country to support him ahead of next year’s election. Mr. Jonathan became president earlier this year following the death of Nigeria’s elected Muslim leader, and some within his party feel the next leader also should be Muslim.

Party leaders anticipated that Mr. Jonathan’s predecessor would hold office for two, four-year terms, like the Christian president before him. An unwritten agreement in the ruling People’s Democratic Party calls for its presidential candidates to alternate between the Christian south and the Muslim north.

Associated Press writer Ahmed Mohammed in Jos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.