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Death Toll Rises in Bombing of Nigerian Independence Celebrations

Smoke and debris fill the sky seconds after a car bomb explodes alongside firemen responding to an initial car bomb that had exploded five minutes earlier, in Abuja, Nigeria, 01 Oct 2010

Police in Nigeria say the death toll from Friday's car bombs in Abuja has risen to 12. Militants from the oil-rich Niger Delta carried out the attack on Nigeria's 50th anniversary of independence.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta says it set off the bombs because Nigeria has nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure.

It is the group's biggest attack outside the Delta and shows an increasing aggressiveness striking in the capital during an event with high security where President Goodluck Jonathan and foreign diplomats were marking the anniversary of independence.

A written statement from the presidency condemned the bombings as a low, dirty and wicked act of desperation by criminals and murderers. It said the president grieves with families who lost loved ones and wants those behind the attacks to know that they will be found and will pay dearly for this heinous crime.

Authorities Saturday continued to clean up the site of the twin car bombings near a federal court building. Abuja resident Mohammed Abu says the city is in shock.

"I feel sad about the bomb blast of yesterday because it's like a sabotage, because in the history of this country such things have not happened before," he said. "We have had a grenade blast by a little mistake by the military but it was not in public, but this very one in fact, it is a group of people that did it."

Some Niger Delta militants accepted a government amnesty last year that promised monthly stipends and job training as well as greater investment in the region's infrastructure. But many now say the federal government has failed to deliver. Violence resumed in March with a bomb near the site of a meeting to discuss the amnesty program.

Abuja resident Godwin Okoli says no one expected an attack in the capital. "It is a surprise to everybody, even we in Nigeria here, we have Nigerian army, we have navy, we have air force, we have police, we have... and those forces they have anti-bomb squad. It's a surprise to everybody that something like this happened without detecting," he said.

About an hour before the blasts, militants warned Nigerians to stay away from the independence day ceremonies. Abuja resident Elkana Habila says the bombings hurt the country's imagine just as it should be celebrating 50 years of nationhood.

"This is a very massive blow to the Nigerian government as a whole, you understand, and it will portray the country in a very bad light, you understand - the image of the country, because it will scare away foreign investors from investing in this country and it will affect the economy," said Habila.

The U.S. State Department condemned the bombings. In a written statement, the Obama administration said it is unfortunate that there are those who would resort to violence at a critical time when Nigeria is moving toward new elections next year.