ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — The death toll from a car bomb that exploded on a busy road in Nigeria’s capital rose to at least 19 overnight, police said Friday from the city that within days hosts an international conference.
The bomb was driven near a checkpoint where traffic built up, located across the road from a busy bus station where a massive explosion on April 14 killed at least 75 people. That blast was claimed by the Islamic extremist Boko Haram terrorist network in a video April 19 that threatened further assaults.
The government is deploying 6,000 police to protect the May 7-9 World Economic Forum on Africa, with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as an honored guest, in Abuja, and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last week assured delegates they would be safe. It attracts world leaders, policymakers, philanthropists and business leaders to discuss Africa’s economic growth prospects.
The explosion occurred in a working class suburb just a 15-minute drive from the presidential villa and the hotel venue of the conference.
Police Superintendent Frank Mba told reporters Friday the toll is up to 19 dead with as many wounded being treated in the hospitals. Six cars were burned up in the blast, he said.
Witnesses said a car laden with explosives drove close to the checkpoint and a man jumped out and ran as it blew up. A deafening explosion was followed by smaller ones as other cars caught fire and fuel tanks exploded, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety.
The attacks are a major embarrassment that undermine government and military assurances that the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram had been contained in a northeastern corner of the country.
Two unexploded IEDs were found at the scene, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Islamic militants in Nigeria often time secondary explosions to target rescuers and others drawn to a bombing.
While there was no immediate claim for Thursday’s bombing, it bears all the hallmarks of Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful.” The group wants to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, which it claims would halt crippling corruption that keeps 70 percent of the people in Africa’s richest nation impoverished.
Hours after the April 14 car bombing, which wounded at least 141 people, Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 250 teenage girls at a school in the remote northeast, which is their stronghold. About 50 of the girls escaped their captors, but 200 remain missing, prompting national outrage and vilification of Nigeria’s government and military.
Every time the military trumpets a success against the militants, they seem to step up the tempo and deadliness of attacks. More than 1,500 people have died in the Islamic uprising this year, compared to 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.
President Goodluck Jonathan told a May Day rally in Abuja earlier Thursday that the government would win.
“We shall triumph over all this evil that wants to debase our humanity or obstruct our progress as a nation,” he vowed. “Those who want to re-define our country to be seen as a country of chaos will never succeed.”
Abuja, in the heart of the country and far from Boko Haram’s northeastern stronghold, had remained relatively peaceful since a 2011 explosion in which suicide bombers drove two cars into the lobby of the local U.N. headquarters. The blast killed 21 people and wounded 60.
Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer and is the continent’s most populous nation. Its 170 million people are almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims. The uprising threatens Nigeria’s cohesion and security and imperils nearby countries where its fighters have gone to train. Fighters from Chad, Cameroon and Niger have been found among extremists in Nigeria.