A suspected suicide bomber attacked a crowded market in Nigeria’s troubled northeast Thursday, witnesses and officials said, killing at least seven people and wounding many others.
The blast went off ahead of a political rally and a visit by a former state governor in the Borno State town of Biu.
- Based in the northeastern city of Maiduguri
- Self-proclaimed leader is Abubakar Shekau
- Began in 2002 as a nonviolent Islamist splinter group
- Launched uprising in 2009
- Has killed tens of thousands since 2010
- Boko Haram translates to "Western education is sinful"
- Wants Nigeria to adopt strict Islamic law
It was the latest in a string of violent attacks that have roiled Africa’s most populous nation ahead of critical national elections that had been scheduled for Saturday.
Much of the violence is linked to the nearly six-year insurgency by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has terrorized Borno and other states in Nigeria’s northeast.
The inability of the security forces to quell the violence has turned into a major election issue, prompting officials to postpone Saturday’s vote until March 28.
A trader in the Biu market, Aliyu Buba, told VOA that a 12-seat passenger bus blew up with no warning after driving into the market and parking, around 3:20 p.m. local time.
Local media quoted witnesses as saying a woman or girl on the bus may have set off the blast. Reuters, citing witnesses and a community leader, also said a female suicide bomber may have been to blame.
A member of the civilian Joint Task Force— the semi-official agency charged with battling Boko Haram— told a VOA reporter that the casualty figure was "very high."
Before the blast, demonstrators had been vandalizing the flag of the ruling People's Democratic Party, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Ali Modu Sheriff, the former governor of Borno State, had been scheduled to appear.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast.
A community leader, Ali Mai Biu, was quoted by Reuters as saying many people were feared dead and scores wounded. It was unclear if the casualties were on the bus itself or in the market.
In the election, incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is facing Muhammadu Buhari, a former military officer who ruled Nigeria for two years in the 1980s after a coup. Polls taken before the postponement of the election had showed Buhari closing in on Goodluck.
Boko Haram has killed thousands of civilians, displaced nearly 1 million others, and seized dozens of villages in northeastern Nigeria for what their leader says will be an Islamic caliphate.
The insurgency has begun seeping into neighboring countries, which has prompted Chad, Cameroon and Niger to send troops to join the fight.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.