Suicide car bomber kills 18 in attack on UN offices
Witnesses said a car entered the busy UN compound yesterday despite attempts by armed guards to stop it. The suicide attacker crashed the vehicle into the reception area and detonated the explosives, a spokesman for the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency said.
The attack comes as Africa’s most populous nation faces the growing threat of terrorism. Militants from a radical Muslim sect from northeast Nigeria have carried out attacks on the capital, though never on a foreign target. Unrest in the oil-rich Niger Delta in the south has also spawned a violent militant group.
Michael Ofilaje, a Unicef worker at the building, said it shook with the explosion. He added: “I saw scattered bodies. Many people are dead.”
The Nigerian Red Cross reported at least 18 dead with at least 11 others injured.
Nigerian health minister Mohammad Ali Pate made a public appeal for blood donations, saying there were at least 60 people injured in hospital in Abuja.
The building, located in the same area as the US embassy, houses about 400 UN staff and is home to several UN agencies including the UN Development Programme, Unicef and the UN Population Fund.
The explosion punched a huge hole in the building. Workers brought in three large cranes within hours of the attack, trying to pull away the concrete and rubble to find survivors.
Others at the site stood around stunned as medical workers began carrying out the dead and injured.
“This is getting out of hand,” said a UN staffer who identified himself as Bodunrin. “If they can get into the UN house, they can reach anywhere.”
Ali Tikko, who was in a building 100 yards from the site of the blast, said by telephone: “I heard one big boom. I see a number of people lying on the floor – at least four or five. I cannot see if they are dead. There are a lot of security around.”
Local police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said police were investigating.
In a statement, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s office called the attack “barbaric, senseless and cowardly”. The statement also promised to increase security in the capital.
“President Jonathan reaffirms the federal government’s total commitment to vigorously combat the incursion of all forms of terrorism into Nigeria, and wishes to reassure all Nigerians and the international community that his administration will spare no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement read.
No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Oil-rich Nigeria faces terrorism threats on multiple fronts. The nation of 150 million is split between a largely Christian south and Muslim north. In recent months, it has faced an increasing threat from a radical Muslim sect called Boko Haram, which wants to implement a strict version of Shariah law.
The sect has carried out assassinations and bombings, including the June car bombing in Abuja of the national headquarters of Nigeria’s federal police that killed two people.
Earlier this month, the commander for US military operations in Africa said Boko Haram may be trying to link with two al-Qaeda-linked groups in other African countries. General Carter Ham said on a visit to Nigeria that “multiple sources” indicate Boko Haram made contacts with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in northwest Africa, and with al-Shabaab in Somalia. “I think it would be the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well,” he said.
Last year, a militant group from the Niger Delta, blew up car bombs in Abuja during the country’s 50th independence anniversary ceremony, killing 12 people.