West and North Africa

At Least 15 Killed in Northeast Nigeria Blast

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A massive car bomb explosion in northeastern Nigeria has killed at least 15 people, and witnesses say the death toll could go much higher. Also, troops announced the arrest of a businessman suspected of helping Islamist militants to carry out attacks including the kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls.

Tuesday’s blast at a popular market in the city of Maiduguri came from explosives hidden under charcoal in the back of a pickup truck or van.

Witnesses say the explosion was so powerful that it sent body parts onto roofs of buildings and set several nearby vehicles on fire.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials were quick to lay blame on Boko Haram.

The Islamist radical group, which originated in Maiduguri, is blamed for the deaths of thousands of people in the past five years.

Bombing near market

An attendant at Maiduguri General Hospital said earlier that eight bodies had been brought in by civilian volunteers. However, witnesses said dozens could be dead, The Associated Press reported.

“I saw police and troops picking out victims,” said Alakija Olatunde, a student who rushed to the scene.

Trader Daba Musa Yobe, who works near the popular market, said the bomb went off just after the market opened at 8 a.m., before most traders or customers had arrived.

Other witnesses said they saw about 50 bodies, and that five cars and some tricycle taxis were set ablaze by the explosion.

They said the toll could have been worse but fewer than normal traders and customers were around because most people stay up late to eat during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.

Maiduguri, Nigeria
Maiduguri, Nigeria

A security official at the scene confirmed the blast, saying many casualties are feared. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.

A year-old government military operation against Boko Haram has so far failed to crush the rebels, whose insurgency has killed thousands since 2009, destabilizing much of the northeast of Africa’s top oil producer.

Arrest in abductions case

Before the news of the bomb blast, Nigeria’s military said it arrested a businessman suspected of being at the head of a Boko Haram intelligence network that helped plan the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in the northeast in mid-April.

The man had helped the Islamist militant group plan several attacks, including the killing of traditional ruler the Emir of Gwoza, the military said in a statement.

The AP identified the man as Babuji Ya’ari, a businessman.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said in a statement reported by the AP that Ya’ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover “while remaining an active terrorist.”

Two women were also arrested as part of the investigation, one of whom was accused of coordinating payments to other “operatives.”

It was unclear if the arrest could help in rescuing the girls who remain captive.

The April abduction of 276 school girls from Chibok, 219 of whom remain in captivity, has become a symbol of the powerlessness of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to protect its civilians.

Defense spokesman Major-General Chris Olukolade said in a statement that the arrested man used his membership of a pro-government vigilante group “as a cover, while remaining an active terrorist.”

Olukolade said the man had coordinated several deadly attacks in Maiduguri since 2011, including on customs and military locations as well as planting improvised bombs.

Increasing violence

Violence has been relentless in northeast Nigeria in particular, with hundreds killed in the past two months.

Boko Haram has adopted a two-pronged strategy this year of bombings in urban areas and scorched-earth attacks in northeastern villages where people are gunned down and their homes burned.

Explosions last week targeted the biggest shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria’s central capital, killing 24 people; a medical college in northern Kano city, killing at least eight; and a hotel brothel in northeast Bauchi city that killed 10.

On Sunday, the Chibok community was attacked again in three places. Militants opened fire on churches and homes, killing dozens and burning houses to the ground.

On Monday, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the recent attacks.

A statement from his office said: “The president assures all Nigerians once again that the federal government and national security agencies will continue to intensify ongoing efforts to end Boko Haram’s senseless attacks until the terrorists are routed and totally defeated.”

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

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