At least 19 people have been killed in a bomb blast at a crowded market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, with some reports suggesting a young girl of about 10 was the source of the explosion.
The powerful blast rocked the city’s Monday Market on Saturday at about 12.40pm (1140 GMT) while packed with shoppers and traders.
Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, is often attacked as it lies in the heartland of an insurgency by Islamist militants Boko Haram. The same market was struck twice by suicide bombers late last year.
This latest atrocity comes a week after a major Boko Haram attack on the fishing town of Baga, also in Borno state, which has been described as the “deadliest massacre” in the history of the Islamist insurgent group.
Amnesty International says that the town was razed and as many as 2,000 people could have been killed, with 20,000 forced to flee their homes.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the Maiduguri bombing. Ashiru Mustapha, a witness to the attack, told AFP the explosives detonated as the young girl was searched at the market’s entrance.
“The girl was about 10 years old and I doubt if she actually knew what was strapped to her body.
“In fact, she was searched at the entrance of the market and the metal detector indicated that she was carrying something.
“But sadly, the explosion went off before she was isolated.”
Borno State police spokesman Gideon Jubrin said 19 people were killed and 18 others were injured but warned that the death toll could rise.
A Red Cross official told AFP: “Many people sustained life-threatening injuries.”
At least two other people were killed when a car exploded at a police station in Potiskum, also in northeast Nigeria, report AFP.
The blast happened at a facility attached to the Potiskum Area Command at around 3.30pm (1430 GMT) and involved the driver of a vehicle which had earlier raised suspicions at a checkpoint outside the city.
“It was while they were at the gates of the police station undergoing security checks that the car exploded,” said a police officer to AFP.
“The policeman and the driver have been confirmed dead but details of other casualties are not clear yet.”
The city was the target of attacks by Boko Haram militants last November, when a suicide bomber disguised in school uniform blew himself up at morning assembly before lessons at the Government Comprehensive Senior Science Secondary School, killing 58.
Fighting has continued around Baga, a town on the border with Chad where insurgents seized a key military base on 3 January and attacked again on Wednesday.
District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents.
“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for poorly armed civilians in a defence group that fights Boko Haram, told the Associated Press.
He said the civilian fighters gave up on trying to count all the bodies. “No one could attend to the corpses and even the seriously injured ones who may have died by now,” Gava said.
These attacks come five weeks away from presidential elections which are likely to trigger even more bloodshed. Already under a state of emergency, the three northeastern states worst hit by Boko Haram asked the central government for more troops earlier this week. The government has said voting will take place across Borno State although the worsening insecurity means few international observers are likely to get clearance to oversee voting in an area that is traditionally opposition-supporting.
The US has condemned the escalating violence in Nigeria. “The United States condemns the recent escalation of attacks on civilians carried out by Boko Haram, which shows no regard for human life. All those responsible for these recurring terrorist attacks must be held accountable,” the State Department said in a statement late on Friday.