A damaged crucifix overlooks the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja, December 25, 2011
Religious buildings are under attack in Nigeria Reuters

A day after gunmen attacked a church and killed 19 worshippers and the pastor in the Nigerian town of Okene, a group of armed assailants shot dead three people outside a mosque just a few miles away.

Witnesses said the gunmen arrived near the Okene Central Mosque in a white jeep and tried to force their way into the mosque where local Muslims were gathered for prayer.

The assailants opened fire on officers from the Joint Task Force (JTF) who were guarding the mosque and a shootout erupted. According to Kogi state police commissioner Muhammed Katsina, the gunmen killed two soldiers and a civilian. Two of the gunmen were killed but other members of the group escaped unharmed.

Katsina confirmed that an investigation was under way and a dusk-to-dawn curfew had been imposed in Okene and several nearby towns.

Kogi police were checking all places of worship across the region, following the discovery of an unexploded bomb at a church in state capital Lokoja.

Police spokesmen Frank Mba appealed to residents to remain calm.

More details about the attack on Okene's Deeper Life Church have emerged.

Victims said the gunmen blocked the main entrance of the church and immediately opened fire, before shooting under the church benches where people were hiding.

No group has laimed responsibility for the attack.