NIGERIA: Heavy casualties were feared on Tuesday when a bomb blast ripped through packed crowds in Yola, northeast Nigeria, just days after President Muhammadu Buhari visited declaring that Boko Haram were close to defeat.
“The explosion happened in the midst of a large crowd because the area houses a livestock market, an open-air eatery and a mosque,” Red Cross official Aliyu Maikano told AFP.
“So far we don’t have any definite number of dead but we evacuated the dead and the injured to hospitals.
“Our main preoccupation now is to save the injured. For now we have 40 wounded but this number could increase because the police are still combing the area for more victims because the area was in darkness when the explosion occurred.
“Victims could be lying all over the place.”
One local resident, who asked not to be identified, said the blast in the Jambutu area happened shortly after evening prayers, as people left the mosque to eat.
“The area has been taken over by aid workers and security operatives so that ambulances are going to and fro carrying the victims to hospital. I believe the toll will be high,” he added.
The blast bore all the hallmarks of Boko Haram, which has previously attacked Yola with suicide bomb and improvised explosive devices in recent months.
Last Friday, Buhari was in Yola to decorate soldiers for bravery in the counter-insurgency as well as visit a camp for people displaced by six years of violence that have left at least 17,000 people dead.
He told troops he believed Boko Haram “are very close to defeat” and urged soldiers “to remain vigilant, alert and focused to prevent Boko Haram from sneaking into our communities to attack soft targets”.
Tuesday’s blast was the first in Nigeria this month, indicating the army’s strategy to cut off the militants’ supply lines and target their camps was paying off.
Buhari has set his military commanders a deadline of the end of next month to crush the rebels, who have increasingly taken to attacking border areas of neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
But the Yola explosion also shows the difficulty in completely neutralising the threat, particularly in crowded urban areas.
On Monday, the army said it had foiled an attack using high-powered assault weapons and IEDs in the capital of Borno state, Maiduguri, as well as uncovered a bomb-making factory.
In October, 27 people were killed and 96 injured in a blast at a mosque in Jambutu, while in September, seven people died and 20 were injured by a bomb left at the IDP camp visited by Buhari last week.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up at one of Yola’s main markets in June, killing 31.
The blast came as Boko Haram was named in the latest Global Terrorism Index as “the most deadly terrorist group in the world”, having killed 6,644 people last year.
The index, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, said the Islamic State group, to which Boko Haram has pledged allegiance, killed 6,073.
It highlighted “the major intensification of the terrorist threat in Nigeria” and said it had “witnessed the largest increase in terrorist deaths ever recorded by any country”.