Bombings in Nigeria claim at least 118 lives

Updated: 2014-05-22 07:02

By Agencies in Jos, Kano and Lagos, Nigeria (China Daily)

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Bombings in Nigeria claim at least 118 lives

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow past the wreckage of a burned vehicle and smoldering shops following two bomb blasts at Terminus market in the central city of Jos, Nigeria, on Wednesday. The bombs were timed to inflict maximum civilian casualties. Agence France-Presse

Twin blasts target town in region with mix of Christians and Muslims

Back-to-back bomb blasts killed at least 118 people and wounded 45 in the crowded business district of the central Nigerian city of Jos on Tuesday, in an attack that appeared to bear the hallmarks of Boko Haram insurgents, emergency services said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Boko Haram, which has set off bombs across the north and center of Nigeria in an increasingly bloody campaign for an Islamic state, is seen as the prime suspect in what would rank among their deadliest attacks in five years of insurrection.

Boko Haram grabbed world headlines by abducting more than 200 schoolgirls on April 14 from the northeastern village of Chibok. Britain, the United States and France have pledged to help rescue them.

If the Jos attack was the handiwork of Boko Haram, it would show the militant group's growing reach in Africa's top oil-producing country, striking out beyond their heartland in Nigeria's semi-arid and weakly governed northeast. Several bombs have exploded outside that region over the past month.

It was also likely calculated to stoke civil strife in Nigeria's most combustible ethnic and sectarian tinderbox. Jos and the surrounding Plateau state have seen thousands killed in tit-for-tat violence between largely Christian Berom farmers and Muslim Fulani cattle herders over the past decade.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan swiftly condemned the attack, calling it a "tragic assault on human freedom" and condemning the perpetrators as "cruel and evil".

Double blasts

Bombings in Nigeria claim at least 118 lives

A Reuters reporter saw 10 bodies burned beyond recognition at the bomb site opposite a hospital at Terminus, the downtown area of Jos which houses shops, some offices and a market.

"We've now recovered 118 bodies from the rubble," said Mohammed Abdulsalam, coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency in Jos. "This could rise by morning, as there is still some rubble we haven't yet shifted."

"The first explosive went off around 3 pm. The second was about 3:30, while people gathered to help the victims," he said by telephone. "This is a very busy area of the Jos metropolis."

The back-to-back blast tactic, meant to maximize civilian casualties, has also been used by militants in Iraq and other places.

Jos has been relatively free of attacks by Boko Haram, but the group claimed responsibility for a bomb in a church in the highland city, as well as two other places, on Christmas Day 2011.

The city is in the heart of Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt, where its largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet, and the surrounding Plateau state is often a flashpoint for violence, although the Christmas bombing failed to trigger more.

But in a sign it could, a mob of Christian youths armed with clubs advanced toward a Muslim part of Jos before police held them back, police spokeswoman Felicia Anselm said by telephone.

On Wednesday, details emerged of two attacks by Boko Haram gunmen that killed 30 people near Chibok, the northeast Nigerian town where the Islamists kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last month.

The first attack on Monday afternoon killed 10 in the village of Shawa, some seven kilometers from Chibok, a number of residents told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Gunmen then stormed the nearby village of Alagarno late on Tuesday and stole food, razed homes and fired on fleeing civilians. "It was a sudden attack," said resident Haruna Bitrus, in an account supported by other locals.

"They began shooting and set fire to our homes. We had to flee to the bush. They killed 20 of our people," he added.