Suspicion fell on Boko Haram, though there was no immediate claim
of responsibility from the Islamist group mainly active in the
northeast. Five hours after the blast, officials had given no death
toll. Reuters journalists counted at least 35 bodies.
Security experts suspected the explosion was inside a vehicle, said
Air Commodore Charles Otegbade, director of search and rescue
operations. He gave no further details.
Henry Onyebulem, head of the clinical department of Asokoro general
hospital, said that 27 dead had been deposited in the mortuary,
while 25 critically injured are being treated.
More were expected, he said.
"I was waiting to get on a bus when I heard a deafening explosion
then saw smoke," said Mimi Daniels, who escaped from the blast near
Nyanyan bridge, 8 km (5 miles) south of Abuja, with minor injuries
to her arm.
"People were running around in panic."
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 still holding the charred bodies of commuters.
"These are the remains of my friend," said a man, who gave his name
as John, holding up a bloodied shirt. "His travel ticket with his
name on was in the shirt pocket."
The attack underscored the vulnerability of Nigeria's federal
capital, built in the 1980s in the geographic center of the country
to replace coastal Lagos as the seat of government for what is now
Africa's biggest economy and top oil producer.
Boko Haram militants fighting for an Islamic state have largely been
confined to the remote northeast. They have been particularly active
there over the past few months and are increasingly targeting
civilians they accuse of collaborating with the government or
Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 60 people in an attack
on a village in northeast Nigeria late last week. Eight people were
killed in a separate attack at a teacher training college.
[to top of second column]
"In some ways it's not a big surprise. The situation has been
escalating. It should be part of the strategy to 'bring it home'
what's happening elsewhere in the northeast," said Kole Shettima,
director of the MacArthur Foundation's Africa office in Abuja. "It's
a statement that they are still around and they can attack Abuja
when they want, and instill fear."
The Islamists, who want to carve an Islamic state out of Nigeria,
have in the past year mostly concentrated their onslaught in the
northeast, where their insurgency started.
There had been no attacks near the capital since suicide car bombers
targeted the offices of Nigerian newspaper This Day in Abuja and the
northern city of Kaduna in April 2012.
Security forces at the time said that was because a Boko Haram cell
in neighboring Niger state had been broken up.
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' Nigeria headquarters that
killed 24 people on August 26, 2011.
Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of largely Muslim northern
Nigeria means "Western education is sinful", is loosely modeled on
the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, and has forged ties with
al-Qaeda-linked militants in the Sahara.
(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh;
writing by Tim Cocks;
editing by Louise Ireland and Alastair Macdonald)
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