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Dozens feared dead as explosions mar Independence Day celebrations in Maiduguri

A Boko Haram attack site in Maiduguri
A Boko Haram attack site in Maiduguri

A series of explosions rocked the city of Maiduguri, Borno state, on Thursday, with casualties feared, witnesses and police said.

It was not immediately clear how many blasts hit the state capital but one police officer said as many as seven went off and locals reported at least two bombs were strapped to teenage girls.

Boko Haram Islamists have increasingly used suicide bombers to target civilians, including in Maiduguri, where on 20 September dozens of people were killed in a wave of attacks.

“The first bomb was strapped to the body of a teenage girl, who wanted to kill worshippers at Ajilari Cross,” said Bashir Ali, a driver in the area.

Ajilari Cross, near Maiduguri airport, where there is also a military base, was one of several places in the city hit 10 days ago.

Ali said the girl’s target appeared to have been a mosque, just as worshippers were preparing for evening prayers at about 7:30pm.

“Tragedy was averted because there was a little delay as the prayers did not commence in earnest and the bomb strapped to the body of the girl went off and killed her,” he added.

“It did not affect any other person.”

Maiduguri has been on edge since the last round of bombings, with locals fearing further bloodshed. The sound of the first explosion saw many flee their homes.

Bakura Ajiya, a butcher, said there were three blasts as people left the area, killing a number of people. He did not specify how many.

He added that there was another teenage girl carrying explosives who targeted a separate gathering in Ajilari but her bomb failed to go off.

“When she attempted to flee, the police shot her in the leg,” he said.

A senior police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed: “In all, there were about seven explosions but we are trying to get the details. I cannot tell you the casualty figures for now.”

Exact details of the blasts and casualties are unlikely to emerge until Friday, as Maiduguri is subject to a nighttime curfew.

Nigeria’s military on Thursday said one man was arrested after troops discovered and raided what it said was a Boko Haram fuel dump in the Abbaganaram area of Maiduguri on Wednesday.

“The fuel depot was used to stockpile petroleum, oil and lubricants by Boko Haram terrorists and their equally heartless collaborators for onward movement to the terrorists’ camps in Sambisa forest,” army spokesman Sani Usman said in a statement.

Separately, Usman said 80 Boko Haram fighters had surrendered to troops in the town of Bama, some 70km (45 miles) southeast of Maiduguri.

Military commanders, who in early August were given a three-month deadline to end the insurgency, this week said they were holding 315 Boko Haram fighters who had given up their weapons.

Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, has said he was hopeful of an end to “conventional” fighting by early November but guerrilla-style attacks on civilians may continue.

Amnesty International on Wednesday said more needed to be done to protect civilians, with at least 1,600 killed in Boko Haram violence in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger since the start of June, taking the toll to some 3,500 this year.

At least 17,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2009 and 2.5 million made homeless, mainly in Nigeria.

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