A car bomb exploded yesterday in a market in Maiduguri, the northeastern Nigerian city that is the birthplace of Boko Haram Islamic extremists, reducing stalls, goods and vehicles to piles of trash. Dozens of people are feared dead.
Witnesses blamed Boko Haram extremists who are accused of a series of recent bomb attacks in the West African nation.
The explosives were hidden under a load of charcoal in a pickup van, according to witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Trader Daba Musa Yobe, who works near the popular market, said the bomb went off just after the market opened at 8am, before most traders or customers had arrived.
Stalls and goods were reduced to debris, as were the burned-out hulks of five cars and some tricycle taxis set ablaze.
Yobe said security forces cordoned off the area but had a hard time keeping people out, though they warned there could be secondary explosions timed to target rescue efforts.
Witnesses said they saw about 50 bodies. They said the toll may be worse but fewer than normal traders and customers were around because most people stay up late to eat during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.
A security official at the scene confirmed the blast, saying many casualties were feared. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.
Explosions last week targeted the biggest shopping mall in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, killing 24 people; a medical college in northern Kano city, killing at least eight; and a hotel brothel in Bauchi city that killed 10.
Maiduguri, a city of more than one million people, has suffered many attacks. In March, twin car bombs killed more than 50 people at a late-night market where people were watching a soccer match on a big screen.
Boko Haram has attracted international attention and condemnation since its April abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from a northeastern town.
Nigeria's military announced on Monday that it had busted a terrorist intelligence cell and arrested a businessman who "participated actively" in the mass abduction that caused outrage around the world.
It was unclear if the first arrest of a suspect in the kidnappings could help in rescuing at least 219 girls who remain captive. Boko Haram is threatening to sell the girls into slavery if Nigeria's government does not exchange them for detained insurgents.
Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said that businessman Babuji Ya'ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover "while remaining an active terrorist".