LAGOS: At least 14 people were killed in three separate suicide bomb attacks in Damaturu, northeast Nigeria, on Wednesday, the country’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.
The blasts came after Boko Haram militants this week claimed to have carried out three suicide attacks on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja, last Friday that left 18 dead and 41 injured.
Suspicion for the latest bombings will likely fall on the militant, who have repeatedly attacked Damaturu during their bloody, six-year insurgency.
Last month, a girl thought to be aged 12 killed six and injured 47 when the explosives she was carrying went off outside a bus station in the Yobe state capital.
NEMA coordinator for Yobe state Bashir Idris Garga said the first blast Wednesday 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 exploded at a Fulani settlement on the outskirts of the city.
“Total injured 10, seven partially injured and three critically injured,” Garga said in a text message.
Yobe 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.
– ‘Attack repelled’ –
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 neighbouring Borno and Adamawa states.
Nigeria’s military has claimed a series of successes against the insurgents and on Wednesday claimed to have killed scores of rebel fighters during clashes with troops south of Damaturu.
Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said fighters attempted to attack a battalion of soldiers in Goniri, some 60 kilometres by road southeast of Damaturu, in the early hours of Wednesday.
“During the encounter our gallant troops successfully repelled the attacked and inflicted heavy casualty 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.
– New video –
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has set his military commanders a three-month deadline to early November to end the violence, which has left at least 17,000 dead since 2009.
Boko Haram on Wednesday 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 neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, underlining its threat to regional security.
On Tuesday, 11 soldiers were killed and 13 injured in a Boko Haram attack on Chadian positions across the border; 17 insurgents were also killed in the pre-dawn strike, Chad’s army said.
Suicide attacks on Sunday in the city of Diffa, southeast Niger, killed a gendarme and five civilians.