MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — A car bomb targeting a military checkpoint on a road leading to Nigeria's northeastern city of Maiduguri exploded Tuesday, killing all nine people in the vehicle, police and witnesses said.
Those killed were the driver and passengers in the explosives-laden minivan, said police deputy superintendent Victor Isuku, blaming Boko Haram Islamic extremists. Army spokesman Col. Sani Kukesheka Usman put the number of dead at eight. He said the attackers wore "suicide vests" in addition to the car bomb.
Bus driver Garba Saje was driving behind the vehicle. "Suddenly, a loud bang sounded and all I could see was smoke," he said. "My legs are still shaking because I am in shock over the increased bombing attacks."
He said he is not going to drive for a while because "everyone is a target now."
The van came off a rural road and blew up shortly after turning onto the tarred main road near Gubio town in a "massive blast," said truck driver Habib Isa. Gubio is 95 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram and headquarters of the military campaign to halt the insurgency.
Boko Haram recently has stepped up attacks after a months-long lull caused by a leadership struggle in the Islamic State-affiliated group.
Tuesday's explosion follows four suicide bombings in three weeks in Maiduguri, which is home to nearly as many refugees from Boko Haram as residents. Two of those suicide bombers tried, but failed, to enter a camp housing more than 16,000 refugees.
The uprising has killed more than 20,000 people over seven years and forced some 2.6 million people from their homes.
Separately on Tuesday, Nigeria's military reported "a wave of mass defection" by Boko Haram fighters with their families in neighboring Chad. A statement said 240 fighters surrendered recently to a multinational force that seeks to counter the extremists. It said they have been commended for abandoning "terrorism" and have been assured of good care as long as they remain in camps.
Associated Press writer Alfa Ismail Abdulrahim contributed to this report from Maiduguri.