Suicide attackers, bombs target northeast Nigeria

AP News
Posted: Nov 04, 2011 3:38 PM
Suicide attackers, bombs target northeast Nigeria

Suicide bombers attacked a military base, a car bomb exploded outside a barracks and explosives detonated Friday around northeast Nigeria, a region under siege from a radical Muslim sect, officials said. While casualties weren't immediately clear, one blast struck outside a school where parents had arrived to pick up their children.

There was no claim of responsibility but blame immediately fell to the sect known as Boko Haram, which has staged targeted assassinations and bombings in the region, killing more than 240 people this year alone across Nigeria's Muslim north, according to a count by The Associated Press.

The attacks appear to be the most bold and coordinated ever carried out by Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege."

In August, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria's capital, which killed 24 people and left another 116 wounded. Friday's attacks involved five separate assaults, including one on a high-profile military installation.

The first wave of attacks struck Maiduguri, the sect's spiritual home in Nigeria's arid and impoverished northeast. Borno state police commissioner Simeon Midenda said one blast detonated around noon outside the El-Kanemi Theological College where parents had gathered. Midenda said others had entered the college grounds to attend Friday prayers at a mosque located on its campus.

Witnesses who spoke to an AP journalist said they saw ambulances carry away at least six wounded people from the site.

A short time later, suicide bombers driving a black SUV attempted to enter a base for the military unit charged with protecting the city from Boko Haram fighters, military spokesman Lt. Col. Hassan Ifijeh Mohammed said.

The SUV couldn't enter the gate and the explosives were detonated outside of the base, which damaged several buildings in the military's compound, Mohammed said. The lieutenant colonel said only a few soldiers suffered "minor injuries" from the attack.

Mohammed said blasts occurred at three other places in Maiduguri besides the base, with no one being killed. However, government officials routinely downplay such attacks in Nigeria over political considerations. Mohammed's claims could not be immediately verified by the AP and the police commissioner declined to say how many people had been wounded.

Immediately after the attack, an AP journalist saw soldiers cordon off one neighborhood and begin an aggressive search. Earlier this week, the military conducted house-to-house searches of some neighborhoods to collect weapons and round up suspected members of the sect.

Hours later, another powerful car bomb detonated in Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, roughly 80 miles (130 kilometers) away from Maiduguri, local police commissioner Sulaimon Lawal said. The blast struck a three-story building that houses both offices and personal quarters for special military police, Lawal said.

Two soldiers were wounded in the blast, while those who parked the vehicle there apparently escaped before the explosion, he said.

A military spokesman in Nigeria's capital Abuja did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.

The bombings come ahead of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice, when Muslims around the world slaughter sheep and cattle in remembrance of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son. Police elsewhere in the country had warned of violence ahead of the celebration in Nigeria, a country of more than 160 million largely split between a Christian south and a Muslim north. On Wednesday, police in Maiduguri had said they broke up a plot to bomb the city over the holiday.

Boko Haram apparently has split into three factions: One remains moderate and welcomes an end to the violence, another wants a peace agreement with rewards similar to those offered to a different militant group in 2009. The third faction, though, refuses to negotiate.

This most radical faction is in contact with al-Qaida's North Africa branch and likely Somalia-based terror group al-Shabab, a diplomat said on condition of anonymity per embassy orders.


Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached at