, ABUJA, Oct 1 – Explosions rocked an area near Nigeria\’s independence celebrations on Friday and killed at least seven people following threats from oil militants, witnesses and a police source said.
The blasts occurred after Nigeria\’s most prominent militant group threatened attacks at the events in Abuja marking 50 years of independence attended by the country\’s leaders and foreign delegations.
"There are seven bodies, including a senior police officer," the source said. An AFP correspondent saw six bodies.
A senior intelligence officer was also among those killed, one of his colleagues from the intelligence service said on condition of anonymity.
"There were more casualties at the second explosion because the first explosion drew crowds to the scene, which is close to the second explosion," the intelligence officer said.
Police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said earlier that "my information is that there was an explosion in a house" and he could not confirm any fatalities.
However, some 10 cars were destroyed and the blast did not appear to originate from a house, an AFP journalist said.
An AFP journalist at the scene said there appeared to have been two blasts in an area about 10 minutes away from the square where the celebrations were occurring and one dead body was on the ground.
Firefighters, police and bomb disposal experts were at the scene. The area was filled with smoke, and authorities were cordoning off the scene and pushing journalists back.
"We heard the first explosion and rushed there," one witness who refused to be named told AFP. "All of a sudden we heard another loud explosion behind us."
The incident occurred near a federal court building.
Independence celebrations, however, continued nearby, with a military parade in progress.
Earlier in the day, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta militant group warned of explosions at the independence celebrations and said attendees should evacuate.
"With due respect to all invited guests, dignitaries and attendees of the 50th independence anniversary of Nigeria being held today … the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) is asking everyone to begin immediate evacuation of the entire area within the next 30 minutes," it said.
"This warning expires after 10:30 Hrs (0930 GMT). Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services. In evacuating the area, keep a safe distance from vehicles and trash bins."
MEND has staged scores of attacks in the oil-rich Niger Delta in recent years, claiming to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue.
However, thousands of oil militants signed up to a government amnesty programme last year and unrest in the region has been greatly reduced.
"There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure," MEND said in Friday\’s statement.
"For 50 years, the people of the Niger Delta have had their land and resources stolen from them."
In an earlier address marking independence day, President Goodluck Jonathan said the government was committed to seeing through the amnesty.