VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict on Monday condemned the Christmas Day bomb attacks by Islamist militants in Nigeria as an "absurd gesture" and prayed that "the hands of the violent be stopped."

The pope, speaking from his window overlooking St Peter's Square in Rome, said such violence brought only pain, destruction and death.

Militants of the Boko Haram sect said they had set off the bombs, raising fears that they are trying to ignite sectarian civil war. Three of the five bombs hit churches and one killed at least 27 people at a Catholic church.

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