Scores dead in separate bomb attacks in Nigerian city of Kaduna
At least 82 killed after separate blasts in Kaduna target cleric's congregation and crowded market
Two bomb blasts in the north Nigerian city of Kaduna killed at least 82 people yesterday, officials said, in attacks that bore the hallmarks of violent Islamist group Boko Haram.
A suicide bomber targeting a moderate Muslim cleric killed at least 32 of his congregation gathered in a square. Shortly after, a second bomb blast killed 50 people in the crowded Kawo market, said a local Red Cross worker who was on the scene.
The second blast was aimed at the convoy of senior Nigerian opposition leader and former president Muhammadu Buhari, but he was not hurt, his son Musa said from the scene.
Buhari was the main opposition party contender against President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 elections. Next to Musa lay the charred jeep his father was travelling in.
Thousands were gathered for prayers with Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi in Murtala Muhammed square, and when his convoy pulled up, the bomber lunged at him before being stopped by his private security, witnesses and police said.
"The attack was targeted at the sheikh. No arrest has been made yet," said police commissioner Shehu Umar.
The bomb did not injure Bauchi, several witnesses said. Mustafa Sani, a volunteer for Bauchi's mosque who was helping evacuate bodies, said there were 32 confirmed dead so far.
"Somebody with a bomb vest ... was blocked. He detonated the bomb along with the person that tried to block him," Umar said, adding that police had only been able to confirm 25 dead, with 14 wounded.
A reporter saw blood and body parts scattered on the Alkali Road in the city centre. The military used pick-up trucks to cordon off the area. Sirens wailed as fire engines raced to the scene.
An angry crowd started throwing stones at police, who responded by dispersing them with tear gas. Some followers had come from Senegal, Chad and Niger to see the popular sheikh.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either blast, but Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been staging attacks, especially with explosives, outside its northeastern heartlands in the past three months.
Since launching an insurgency in 2009, the militants have often attacked clerics, such as Bauchi, who take issue with their Salafist ideology. If Boko Haram is responsible for yesterday's attack, it underscores the risks moderate clerics take speaking out against it.
The insurgents, who are fighting to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria, have repeatedly targeted civilians this year, mostly in remote northeastern Borno state. They killed more than 2,000 civilians during the first half of this year, Human Rights Watch estimated a week ago.
The Islamists raided the northeast town of Damboa and nearby villages over the weekend, killing at least 50 people.
The rebellion has been in the international spotlight since Boko Haram fighters kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14. Jonathan met parents of the abducted girls, and some others who had escaped, for the first time on Tuesday.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last week claimed responsibility for two explosions on June 25 at a fuel depot in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial hub, that killed at least two people.