LAGOS: At least 14 people were killed in three separate suicide bomb attacks in northeast Nigeria yesterday, with suspicion falling on radical Islamist group Boko Haram after a string of similar strikes in recent months. The triple blasts in the Yobe state capital, Damaturu, came after the militants this week claimed to have carried out three suicide attacks near Abuja last Friday that left 18 dead. Damaturu has been repeatedly attacked during the insurgency. Last month, a girl thought to be aged 12 killed six when the explosives she was carrying went off outside a bus station. Bashir Idris Garga, Yobe state coordinator at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), said the first blast yesterday happened at a small food store on a housing estate, killing four. Another near a mosque killed one, while nine, including a family, lost their lives when another bomber struck a Fulani settlement on the outskirts of the city.
Ten other people were injured, three of them critically, Garga said. Yobe governor Ibrahim Gaidam called the attacks “cowardly and barbaric” and urged improvements in surveillance. State police spokesman Toyin Gbadegesin told AFP “gun-wielding bombers” carried out the attacks between 5:30 and 6:00 am (0400 to 0500 GMT) before the night-time curfew was lifted. “All the areas affected have been cordoned off and the police have held meetings with community leaders… for them to be more vigilant and suspicious of strange faces and movements,” he added.
Boko Haram has reverted to attacking “soft” civilian targets after last year’s land grab that saw it seize towns and villages across Yobe and neighboring Borno and Adamawa states. Nigeria’s military has claimed a series of successes against the insurgents and yesterday said scores of rebel fighters were killed during clashes with troops south of Damaturu. Army spokesman Sani Usman said fighters attempted to attack a battalion of soldiers in Goniri, some 60 kilometers by road southeast of Damaturu, in the early hours yesterday. “During the encounter our gallant troops successfully repelled the attack and inflicted heavy casualties on the invading terrorists as all of them were killed,” he said in a statement. “On the last count over 100 terrorists bodies were seen,” he added. There was no independent verification and the army has previously claimed high losses on the part of the militants. Usman said seven soldiers were killed and nine others injured in the fighting, which also saw troops recover arms and ammunition, including primed improvised explosive devices.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has set his military commanders a threemonth deadline to early November to end the violence, which has left at least 17,000 dead since 2009. But he has conceded that bomb and suicide attacks in urban areas could continue. More than 1,260 people have been killed since he took office on May 29, according to an AFP tally. Boko Haram yesterday published a new propaganda video via social media, in which an unidentified fighter read a statement in Hausa and Arabic, flanked by more than a dozen armed fighters. The rebel said military claims that some 200 fighters had surrendered in the border town of Banki last month, and that hundreds of women and children were released, were a “complete lie”. The 17-minute video was posted under the name “Islamic State in West Africa Province”, which Boko Haram has used since its pledge of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi in March. Boko Haram has continued to attack neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, underlining its threat to regional security. —AFP