MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Oct 23, (Agencies): At least 55 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, on Friday, raising fresh security concerns after a wave of similar attacks. The attack happened shortly after 5:00 am (0400 GMT) in the Jidari area of the Borno state capital, which has previously been targeted by Boko Haram militants. Maiduguri has now been hit six times this month, killing a total of 76 people, according to an AFP tally, underscoring an increased risk to civilians after similar strikes in neighbouring states and near the capital, Abuja.
Umar Sani, a civilian vigilante assisting the military in the counter-insurgency, and local resident Musa Sheriff both told AFP there were two blasts at the mosque. “People from various mosques nearby rushed to the scene to assist the victims,” said Sani. “I was involved in the evacuation. We counted 55 dead bodies apart from the two bombers, who were identifiable by the mutilation of their bodies. “Over 20 other people were injured.” Sheriff, who said he escaped with his life as he was late for prayers, gave a similar account. Both men also said two other people were arrested and handed over to the military for questioning after they were seen apparently celebrating following the blasts.
The two men were “standing from afar, hugging each other like a celebration, chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest)”, said Sani. “The rescuers apprehended them. They used ropes to tie them and they confirmed that two of their comrades carried out the attacks. They were unrepentant,” he added. “To them it was a mission accomplished,” said Sheriff. Initial reports of the attack from Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said only six people were killed and 17 others injured. Medical sources at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital and Borno State Specialist Hospital later gave a lower toll of 19 dead.
There are frequently conflicting death tolls in the insurgency and official statements often downplay the number of casualties. Nigeria’s military has claimed a series of successes against Boko Haram, recapturing territory seized by the militants last year, as well as the mass surrender of fighters. Senior officers have characterised the increase in suicide bombings against “soft” targets as a sign of the group’s desperation. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has said the military is on track to meet a year-end deadline to bring the six-year insurgency to an end. At least 17,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million made homeless by the violence, which has spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. But the latest bombings in Maiduguri will likely raise questions about how militants are able to carry out such attacks on a regular basis. Nigeria’s police chief is warning that Boko Haram extremists are building bombs in iPads and cellphones and leaving them for people to pick up.
Inspector Gen. Solomon E. Arase issued the warning while announcing five suspects were arraigned Thursday in Abuja High Court in connection with twin bombings in Nigeria’s capital that killed 15 people on Oct 2. Arase said they were arrested in Abuja with “dangerous bombing tools” including high-tech gadgets. He warned Nigerians to avoid temptation and not pick up abandoned iPads, phones or laptops “as terrorists now use these items in manufacturing bombs.”