DAMATURU, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's Islamic extremists chose open-air praying grounds for suicide bombings Friday, one of the holiest days of the Muslim calendar. At least 15 people died as they prepared to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in northeastern Damaturu, said police.
Nigerians who usually turn out in their finest robes to pray on the holiday stayed home in fear in Damaturu and Gombe town, where 50 people shopping for the holiday at the main market died in two bomb blasts late Thursday night, according to the National Emergency Management Agency.
One of the bombers was a child who looked about 10 years old and the other was an elderly woman, said the military in a statement. Nigeria's homegrown Boko Haram extremist group has used many women and girl bombers in recent weeks, raising fears the insurgents are turning some of their hundreds of captives into weapons. A military bomb disposal expert has told The Associated Press that almost all the female bombers are strapped with explosives that are remotely detonated.
"No amount of terrorist acts would deter our resolve to stamp out terrorism and insurgency in our fatherland," said a statement from army spokesman Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman.
But Nigerians are weary of the military's promises to halt the 6-year-old insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people. Amnesty International puts the toll at some 20,000 to include 8,000 people it charges have died in military detention — some shot, some of untreated wounds from torture, others just starving or asphyxiated to death in overcrowded cells.
"Our military keep making promises and the bombs keep exploding. I'm tired," one Nigerian woman wrote on Twitter.
The upsurge in violence comes after the May 29 inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim whose election pledge was to defeat the extremists.
Buhari is flying to Washington D.C. for a Monday meeting with President Barack Obama that is expected to focus on how the United States can help the fight against Boko Haram.
The group captured world attention with the mass kidnapping in April 2014 of 274 mainly Christian schoolgirls in the remote town of Chibok. It sparked outrage and an international "#BringBackOurGirls" campaign that reached the White House. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama said in a radio address in May 2014 that she and her husband are "outraged and heartbroken" over the mass abduction. To date 219 girls remain missing.
U.S. relations with Nigeria soured over the failures of the government and military. Then President Goodluck Jonathan was angered by the U.S. refusal to sell his government helicopter gunships and the Nigerians halted a U.S. military training program.
Fences are expected to be mended under Buhari, a former military dictator who has promised to address U.S. concerns including military abuses that apparently prevented the sale of the attack helicopters. Buhari has said he will fully investigate Amnesty International charges, and ensure human rights abusers are prosecuted.
Last month, the United States said it could send advisers to Nigeria for both military training and to encourage investment in the oil and gas sector of Africa's biggest oil producer and the continent's largest economy.
Nigeria's new leader has come under fire for taking his time to appoint a Cabinet — not one minister has been named six weeks after his inauguration and 14 weeks after his election.
Last week, he fired the entire top echelon of the military that he has accused of corruption that prevents what was once Africa's mightiest armed force from curbing the insurgency based in Nigeria's northeast.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.