Two bombs blamed on the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram exploded at a crowded mosque and an upmarket Muslim restaurant in Nigeria’s central city of Jos, killing 51 people, officials said yesterday.
The blasts on Sunday night came hours after a woman suicide bomber blew up at a crowded evangelical Christian church service in the north-eastern city of Potiskum, killing six people, according to witnesses.
Extremists also returned on Sunday to north-eastern villages attacked three days earlier, killing nine villagers and burning down 32 churches and about 300 homes, said Stephen Apagu, chairman of a self-defence group in Borno state’s Askira-Uba local government area. He said the militia killed three militants.
Sunday’s attacks are the latest in a string blamed on Boko Haram that have now killed about 300 people in the past week. In the most deadly, more than 140 people were killed, most of them men and boys, as they prayed in mosques in north-eastern Kukawa town on Wednesday.
The attacks may correspond to an Islamic State (IS) group order for more mayhem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Boko Haram became the group’s West Africa arm earlier this year.
In Jos, 51 people died and were buried yesterday morning, Muslim community lawyer Ahmed Garba said yesterday.
Another 67 people were wounded, according to Abdussalam Mohammed, the National Emergency Management Agency co-ordinator. Police said a final death toll was yet to come as they are still searching the rubble.
The explosion at the Yantaya Mosque came as leading cleric Sani Yahaya of the Jama’atu Izalatul Bidia organisation, which preaches peaceful co-existence of all religions, was addressing a crowd, according to survivors.
Gunmen opened fire on the mosque from three directions, said Mr Garba.
Survivor Danladi Sani said he saw a man robed in white open fire at Mr Yahaya, and then blow himself up. The cleric was unharmed, he said.
“He is a great Islamic scholar who has spoken out against Boko Haram, and that is why we believe he was the target,” Mr Sani said.
Another bomb exploded at Shagalinku, a restaurant patronised by state governors and other elite politicians seeking specialities from Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, witnesses said.
Sabi’u Bako bought a takeaway and then heard a massive blast as he walked away with friends. “The restaurant was destroyed and we saw many people covered in blood,” he said. “We can’t believe that we escaped.”
Jos is a hotspot for violent religious confrontations, located in the centre of the country where Nigeria’s majority Muslim north and mainly Christian south collide. The city has been targeted in the past by bomb blasts which Boko Haram extremists claimed responsibility for that have killed hundreds of people.
Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari condemned Sunday’s attacks on places of worship and said the government will defend Nigerians’ right to worship freely.
The US also condemned recent attacks and “continues to provide counterterrorism assistance to help Nigerian authorities ... combat the threat posed by Boko Haram,” said a state department spokesman yesterday.
Boko Haram took over a large swath of north-eastern Nigeria last year and stepped up cross-border raids.