JOS (Reuters) - 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, emergency
services said, in an attack that appeared to bear the hallmarks of the
Boko Haram insurgents.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the militant
group Boko Haram, which has set off bombs across the north and
center of Nigeria in an increasingly bloody campaign for an Islamic
state, was likely to be the prime suspect in what would rank among
their deadliest single 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
If the Jos attack was the handiwork of Boko Haram, it would show
their growing reach in Africa's top oil producing and most populous
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 tinder box. 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.
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."
Plateau state Police Commissioner Chris Olakpe earlier confirmed a
death toll of 46, adding that other wounded had been taken to
"The first explosive went off around 3 p.m. The second was about
3:30 while people gathered to help the victims," he said by
telephone. "This is a very busy area of Jos metropolis."
The back-to-back blast tactic, whose aim is to maximize civilian
casualties, has also been used by militants in Iraq and other
Jos has been relatively free of attacks by Boko Haram, but it
claimed responsibility for a bomb in a church in the highland city,
as well as two other places, on Christmas Day in 2011.
The city is in the heart of Nigeria's volatile "Middle Belt", where
its largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north meet, and
surrounding Plateau state is often a flashpoint for violence,
although the Christmas bombing failed to trigger any.
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.
"The Christians were advancing toward us and I thought I was going
to die," Dalami Aspar, who escaped a mob as they ran toward him in
the street, told Reuters.
President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the blasts, calling the
perpetrators "cruel and evil."
"The government remains fully committed to winning the war against
terror, and this administration will not be cowed by the atrocities
of enemies of human progress and civilization," he said in a
statement emailed by his office.
He announced heightened measures to tackle the insurgents, including
a multinational force around Lake Chad, comprising a battalion each
from Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria.
Tuesday's explosions burned several shops to the ground, shattering
windows and spreading rubble in the road. Police sirens wailed as
officers rushed to the scene.
"There was a loud bang that shook my whole house. Then smoke was
rising," said Jos resident Veronica Samson. "There were bodies in
the streets and people rushing injured to hospital in their cars."
For most of the past two years, the insurgency has been largely
confined to Nigeria's remote northeast bordering Cameroon, Chad and
Niger, where militants move easily across borders, but it appears
once again to be spreading outward.
A morning rush hour bomb killed at least 71 people at a bus station
on the outskirts of the capital Abuja last month. Another in almost
exactly the same place, in the suburb of Nyanya, killed at least 19
people at the beginning of May.
A suicide car bomber also killed five people in the northern city of
Kano on Sunday evening in an area mostly inhabited by southern
(Reporting by Tim Cocks in Lagos, Buhari Bello in Jos and Felix
Onuah in Abuja, writing by Tim Cocks; editing by G Crosse and Mark