At least 71 feared dead after blast in outskirts of capital, Abuja, as hundreds of commuters travelled to work.
An explosion ripped through a busy commuter bus station in the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital on Monday, killing 71 and injuring at least 124 people.
The attack by Islamist insurgents Boko Haram was the group’s first in Abuja in two years and the deadliest.
The blast ripped a hole 1.2 metres (4ft) deep in the ground of Nyanya motor park, about 10 miles from the city centre, and destroyed more than 30 vehicles, causing secondary explosions as their fuel tanks ignited and burned.
Security experts suspect the explosion was inside a vehicle, said Air Commodore Charles Otegbade, director of search and rescue operations. Hundreds had packed into the bus station which serves Nyanya, a poor, ethnically and religiously mixed satellite town whose residents commute to the city.
A hospital source said the death toll was likely to rise as more bodies and injured were being brought into nine hospitals around the city centre. At the motor park, bloody remains lay strewn over the ground as security forces struggled to hold back a crowd of onlookers and fire crews hosed down a bus holding the charred bodies of commuters.
Bus driver Julius Kayode described how he was having a cup of morning tea with co-workers when he and his colleagues noticed a man carrying a bag push his way into an idle bus nearby. The man darted out of the bus a few seconds later, disappearing into the rush hour crowds.
“We noticed because we try to be alert about these things. We were just talking about how he was behaving suspiciously when the explosion went off. I just started running – I could feel people just running everywhere, anyhow,” said Kayode, holding up his broken glasses and gesturing at his blood-stained shirt.
Seven of his colleagues were among the 71 confirmed deaths.
Mallam Jibrin, a civil servant, said he narrowly escaped a secondary blast. “I was waiting for my bus to fill up, but immediately the first explosion happened I put my head out the window and slipped out to the ground. When I found my legs I just started running. I later discovered the fire had completely destroyed my own bus,” said Jibrin, who returned to look for a co-worker.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who has placed three north-eastern states under a state of emergency since May last year, visited the site of the blasts, and expressed condolences. “Government is doing everything to make sure we move our country forward even with these unnecessary distractions that are pushing us back. We will get over it,” he said.
The bombing came less than 24 hours after at least 68 civilians were gunned down in remote towns in Boko Haram’s traditional north-eastern base, and underscores the vulnerability of Nigeria’s federal capital.
Abuja was built in the 1980s in Nigeria’s geographic centre to replace coastal Lagos as the seat of government for what is now Africa’s biggest economy, most populous country and top oil producer.
Officials said security agents have been places on “red alert” throughout the capital, and advised citizens to avoid crowded areas.
A Christmas Day bombing of a church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Abuja, killed 37 people in 2011, although the main suspect in that attack is now behind bars. Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the United Nations’ Nigeriaheadquarters that killed 24 people on 26 August 2011.
The military has claimed that it had the extremists on the run with near daily air bombardments and ground assaults on hideouts in forests and mountain caves along the border with Cameroon.
At least 1,500 have been killed this year alone, largely civilians as the group has turned to softer targets.
In a video released by the sect this month, leader Abubakar Shekau called for supporters to wage a “one-man-jihad”, echoing a new tactic being advocated by similar extremist groups. “There are two kinds of people in this world; those who are with us and those against us. I will kill those in the latter group, wherever I see them,” he said.
Issaac Abrak and Abdulazziz Abdulazziz contributed to this story from Abuja.
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