Fear grips Nigerian capital after bomb blast kills 21 ahead of World Cup match

Wreckage probed for clues to attack as shoppers bought supplies ahead of World Cup match

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2014, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 12:49am

Investigators yesterday sifted through the wreckage of a bomb blast which claimed 22 lives in a shopping centre in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, as shoppers spoke of their shock in a city gripped by fear over a campaign of violence by Boko Haram Islamists.

Wednesday's blast shook the crowded downtown Emab Plaza during the afternoon rush as shoppers were buying groceries an hour before the country's soccer team took on Argentina at the World Cup.

Dozens of soldiers and police guarded the scene, with the main road running past the plaza closed off, traders denied access to their shops and the burned-out shells of cars littering the blast zone.

Police and the country's National Information Centre said one suspect had been arrested after the explosion, while another was shot dead by troops as he tried to escape on a motorbike.

The blast, at the entrance to the mall, was powerful enough to blow out windows in buildings on the opposite side of the street.

The area, sandwiched between two other shopping centres and one of the busiest in central Abuja, was littered with the burnt-out hulks of cars and soaked in pools of blood.

Rescue workers could be seen picking through what appeared to be the scorched body parts of victims.

Unconfirmed reports said President Goodluck Jonathan had cancelled plans to attend an African Union summit in Equatorial Guinea and had instead returned to lead the response to the crisis.

"I saw many dead bodies. Some taxi drivers parked at the spot of the explosion waiting for passengers. Some drivers perished there with their passengers," said Oreoluwa Adeoye, who sells phone accessories at the nearby plaza.

Bisi Adeoye, another trader, said: "I saw a woman who almost [went] mad looking for her husband."

Shuaibu Adamu Baba, an education consultant who lost his driver in the blast, said: "It is terrible. There are a lot of human bodies shattered …."

Boko Haram, which sparked worldwide outrage by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls in April, has attacked Nigeria's capital twice in the last 10 weeks.

A car bombing killed 75 people at the Nyanya bus terminal on the outskirts of the city on April 14, and a copycat bombing at the same spot on May 1 left 19 dead.

The security services put the capital under lockdown following the second explosion as Abuja prepared to host a World Economic Forum summit on Africa in early May. While the forum went smoothly, a Boko Haram attack in the heart of the capital less than two months afterwards will raise fresh doubts about Nigeria's capacity to contain the group's worsening insurgency.