A bomb blast hit a busy market in northeast Nigeria yesterday, killing dozens of people, and troops announced the arrest of a businessman suspected of helping Islamist militants to carry out attacks, including the kidnap of more than 200 schoolgirls.
Witnesses said the explosion of a suspected vehicle bomb on a road adjoining the market in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri wrecked cars and taxis that were unloading passengers and wares.
Other witnesses said they saw about 50 bodies.
They said the toll could have been worse, but fewer than normal traders and customers were around because most people stay up late to eat during Ramadan.
They said a suicide bomber carried out the attack.
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.
“I saw police and troops picking out victims,” said Alakija Olatunde, a student who rushed to the scene.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Boko Haram group, which says it is fighting to establish an Islamist state, has claimed past bombings and shootings in Maiduguri and across northern Nigeria.
Before the news of the bombing, the military said it arrested a businessman suspected of being at the head of a Boko Haram intelligence network that helped plan the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in the northeast in the middle of April.
The man had helped the Islamist militant group plan several attacks, including the killing of the Emir of Gwoza, the head of a royal family in northeast Borno state, police said in a statement.
Two women were also arrested as part of the investigation, one of whom was accused of coordinating payments to other “operatives.”
A year-old intensive military operation against Boko Haram has so far failed to crush the rebels, whose struggle for an Islamic state in largely Muslim northern Nigeria has killed thousands since it was launched in 2009.
The abduction in the middle of April of 276 school girls, 219 of whom remain in captivity, has become a symbol of the government’s powerlessness to protect civilians from attack.
Defense spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said in a statement that the arrested man used his membership of a pro-government vigilante group “as a cover, while remaining an active terrorist.”
Olukolade said the man had coordinated several deadly attacks in Maiduguri since 2011, including on customs and military locations as well as the planting improvised bombs.
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