, MAIDUGURI, Mar 2 – At least 35 people were killed following two explosions in a crowded neighbourhood of Nigeria’s restless northeastern city of Maiduguri, a stronghold of Boko Haram Islamists, police said Sunday.
“We are still counting. So far we have counted 35 bodies. Our men are still working with rescue workers at the scene,” Borno state police commissioner Lawal Tanko told AFP.
He did not give further details on the attack which occurred on Saturday in the city’s Gomari district.
Witnesses said the final death toll could rise and as many as 50 people may have been killed and dozens of houses razed in the blasts.
“I assisted in pulling dead bodies from the rubble of destroyed homes after the attack last night,” said one resident of the area who did not want to be named.
“We took 50 bodies to the Sani Abacha Specialist Hospital with the help of soldiers and the police,” he said.
“The bodies included men, women and children. There is so much panic in the area which is mostly deserted. Most people have fled their homes,” he added.
Mallam Mohammed Buba, a witness said that the blast happened when most residents were preparing for evening prayer.
“Nobody can say exactly how it happened now. The first blast occurred just about 15 minutes before the second one,” he said.
“Only a few people were injured by the first blast but while people were trying to rescue the victims of the first blast the second one took place killing many people,” he added.
No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, but Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, has seen deadly attacks since Boko Haram launched its insurgency almost five years ago.
In January, a popular market in the city was hit by an explosion, leaving dozens of people dead.
Boko Haram which in local Hausa means “Western education is evil”, claims to be fighting to create a strict Islamic state in the mainly Muslim north.
The sect has since 2009 carried out attacks across the north and centre of the country, but the violence has in recent months been concentrated in the northeast, the region where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago.
Last week, Boko Haram insurgents killed at least 32 people in three separate incidents, including an attack at a theological college.
Three states in the region Adamawa, Borno and Yobe have been under a state of emergency since May when the military launched a major offensive to quash the uprising.
But the security forces have struggled to contain the violence, and since then more than 1,500 people have been killed according to the UN and figures compiled by AFP.
The UN says nearly 300,000 people have been displaced in the region.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country of 170 million, is divided into a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.