A bystander reacts as victims of the bomb blast arrive at
the Asokoro General Hospital in Abuja. REUTERS/Afolabi
A morning rush hour bomb killed at least 71 people at a
Nigerian bus station on the outskirts of the capital, raising
concerns about the spread of an Islamist insurgency after the
deadliest ever attack on Abuja.
President Goodluck Jonathan pointed the finger of suspicion
at Boko Haram, although there was no immediate claim of
responsibility from the Islamist militants who are active
mainly in the northeast. As well as the dead, police said 124
were wounded in the first attack on the federal capital in
Visiting the scene, Jonathan denounced "the activities of
those who are trying to move our country backwards" by
staging such an attack. "We will get over it. ... The issue
of Boko Haram is temporary," he said, imploring Nigerians to
be more vigilant for suspicious characters.
Security experts suspect the explosion was inside a vehicle,
said Air Commodore Charles Otegbade, director of search and
rescue operations. The bus station, 8 km (5 miles) southwest
of central Abuja, serves Nyanya, a poor, ethnically and
religiously mixed satellite town where many residents work in
"I was waiting to get on a bus when I heard a deafening
explosion, then saw smoke," said Mimi Daniels, who escaped
from the blast with minor injuries to her arm. "People were
running around in panic."
Bloody remains lay strewn over the ground as security forces
struggled to hold back a crowd of onlookers and fire crews
hosed down a bus still holding the charred bodies of
"These are the remains of my friend," said a man, who gave
his name as John, holding up a bloodied shirt. "His travel
ticket with his name on was in the shirt pocket."
The attack underscored the vulnerability of Nigeria's federal
capital, built in the 1980s in the geographic centre of the
country to replace coastal Lagos as the seat of government
for what is now Africa's biggest economy and top oil
Boko Haram militants are increasingly targeting civilians
they accuse of collaborating with the government or security
forces. Amnesty International estimates the conflict has
killed 1,500 people in the past year.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki
condemned the bombings and said the United States stood with
Nigerians as they grapple with "violent extremism."
"We are outraged by these senseless acts of violence against
innocent civilians," Psaki told a regular news briefing.
The police said its agencies were on "red alert", and urged
Nigerians to help with an investigation to find the killers.
"In some ways it's not a big surprise," said Kole Shettima,
director of the Abuja office of U.S. charitable institution,
the MacArthur Foundation. "The situation has been
"It's a statement that they are still around and they can
attack Abuja when they want, and instill fear."
The militants, who want to carve an Islamic state out of
Nigeria, have in the past year mostly concentrated their
attacks in the northeast, where their insurgency started.
But an attempted jailbreak by Boko Haram suspects near the
presidential villa in Abuja last month, which triggered a
three- hour gun battle, may have used outside help, security
The sect's purported leader Abubakar Shekau called on his
"brethren" to take up arms in a video posted on jihadist
websites, specifically threatening to attack Abuja and the
south, which has so far never been touched.
In a sign of how politicised violence is likely to be in the
run-up to elections set for February 2015, the ruling
People's Democratic Party (PDP) blamed the main opposition
All Progressives Congress for the blasts.
"Utterances by certain APC governors have been aimed at
undermining our security forces and emboldening insurgents
against the people," PDP spokesman Olisa Metuh said.
There had been no such violence near the capital since
suicide car bombers targeted the offices of the newspaper
This Day in Abuja and the northern city of Kaduna in April
Security forces at the time said that was because a Boko
Haram cell in neighbouring Niger state had been broken up.
A Christmas Day bombing of a church in Madalla, on the
outskirts of Abuja, killed 37 people in 2011, although the
main suspect in that attack is now behind bars. Boko Haram
also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the United
Nations' Nigeria headquarters that killed 24 people on Aug.
Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of largely Muslim
northern Nigeria means broadly "Western education is sinful",
is loosely modeled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan,
and has forged ties with al Qaeda-linked militants in the
Control Risks analyst Thomas Hansen said the lack of attacks
in Abuja in the past two years was probably thanks to a
crackdown on Boko Haram, which had largely contained the
group in the northeast.
He also said that if this bomb was the work of Boko Haram,
the choice of target on the outskirts of Abuja, rather than
the city centre, may be a sign of constraints on its
"The security provision in the centre appears to be much
better than on the outskirts. It's far easier to target that
side of the city," he said, but he added that the attack may
be a forewarning of more ambitious strikes to come.