MAIDUGURI: At least 22 people were killed in a twin suicide bombing at a mosque in northeast Nigeria on Wednesday, prompting condemnation from President Muhammadu Buhari and stoking fresh fears about security.
The attack, carried out by two women disguised as men, took place at about 5:30am in the Molai district of Maiduguri, which Boko Haram insurgents have repeatedly targeted in the past.
Mr Buhari, who in December declared the militants were “technically” defeated, said he was “dismayed by the… bomb attack on innocent worshippers”.
“This attack is yet another sign that Boko Haram is a mindless and godless group that in no way represents true Islam,” he wrote on Twitter.
The attack was only the second in northeast Nigeria this month and came after four raids and suicide bombings in February and eight in January — a marked decline in frequency since last year.
The military has said its sustained counter-offensive over the last year has the militants on the run, cutting off their supply lines and reducing their ability to conduct conventional fighting.
But fears remain about the group’s use of suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices against “soft” civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations.
Survivors say the assailants were women
The government in Abuja is actively promoting the return of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict who have been living in camps or host communities in Maiduguri.
The sporadic attacks, including one last month at a camp for the internally displaced in Dikwa, some 90km east of Maiduguri, have made many of the homeless hesitant to return.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but the bombing bore all the hallmarks of Boko Haram, whose insurgency has left at least 17,000 dead since 2009.
Both the Borno State Emergency Management Agency spokesman Abdullahi Omar and the army confirmed the powerful blast, which brought down the mosque’s ceiling.
“Sadly, 22 people were killed and 18 others sustained various degrees of injuries,” army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said in an emailed statement.
A source at the state agency added: “This morning just before prayers two women disguised as men came by the mosque.
“One of them went in and joined the first row of the congregation and when the worshippers stood up for the prayers she detonated her explosives, killing several worshippers.
“While the other people were trying to flee, the second woman standing outside the mosque rushed in and set off her explosives in their midst.”
This source also put the death toll at 22 but gave a higher figure of 35 injured.
Survivors of the attack and evidence from the rescue operation identified the bombers as women, he added.
Maiduguri, where the militant group was formed in 2002, has been relatively calm in recent months as a result of a heavy military presence and the counter-offensive.
But there are still question marks about the authorities’ ability to protect civilians and property from guerrilla-style attacks, particularly in hard-to-reach rural areas.
On January 31, at least 85 people were killed when insurgents attacked the village of Dalori, some 12km from Maiduguri, where a major displaced persons camp is located.