Monday 26 February 2018

Death toll rises in Nigeria blast

A vehicle burns after a car bomb exploded in Nigeria's capital Abuja (AP)
A vehicle burns after a car bomb exploded in Nigeria's capital Abuja (AP)

The death toll from a car bomb that exploded on a busy road in Nigeria's capital has risen to at least 19, police said.

The bomb was driven near a checkpoint where traffic built up, across the road from a busy bus station where a massive explosion on April 14 killed at least 75 people.

That blast was claimed by the Islamic extremist Boko Haram terrorist network in a video that threatened further assaults.

The city is hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa next week and the government is deploying 6,000 police to protect the event.

The event attracts world leaders, policy makers, philanthropists and business leaders to discuss Africa's economic growth prospects. Chinese premier Li Keqiang is due to be among the guests, and Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan last week assured delegates they would be safe.

The explosion occurred in a working class suburb a 15-minute drive from the presidential villa and the hotel venue of the conference.

Police Superintendent Frank Mba told reporters the toll was up to 19 dead with as many wounded being treated in hospitals. Six cars were burned up in the blast, he said.

Witnesses said a car laden with explosives drove close to the checkpoint and a man jumped out and ran as it blew up. A deafening explosion was followed by smaller ones as other cars caught fire and fuel tanks exploded, they said.

The attacks are a major embarrassment that undermine government and military assurances that the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram had been contained in a north-eastern corner of the country.

Two unexploded bombs were found at the scene, according to a security official. Islamic militants in Nigeria often time secondary explosions to target rescuers and others drawn to a bombing.

While there was no immediate claim for the bombing, it bears the hallmarks of Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sinful". The group wants to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, which it claims would halt crippling corruption that keeps 70% of the people in Africa's richest nation impoverished.

Hours after the April 14 car bombing, which wounded at least 141 people, Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 250 teenage girls at a school in the remote north east, which is their stronghold. About 50 of the girls escaped their captors, but 200 remain missing, prompting national outrage and vilification of Nigeria's government and military.

Abuja, in the heart of the country and far from Boko Haram's north-eastern stronghold, had remained relatively peaceful since a 2011 explosion in which suicide bombers drove two cars into the lobby of the local UN headquarters. The blast killed 21 people and wounded 60.

Police later said the number of schoolgirls confirmed missing after the kidnapping incident has risen to 276.

Officials said say the number abducted by extremists on April 14 was more than 300, and the number who have escaped is 53.

A spokesman said the figures have increased because students from other schools were taken to one school for final exams after all schools in Borno state were shut because of attacks by Islamic extremists.

Press Association

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