ABUJA: Nigeria police boosted security across Abuja on Tuesday after a bomb blast ripped through a packed bus station killing at least 72 people, the deadliest attack ever to hit the capital.
The slaughter on the outskirts of Abuja has raised fears that a deadly insurgency waged by Boko Haram Islamists may be spreading from the remote northeast areas the group has primarily targeted in recent months.
Police have “beefed up security” after the attack at the Nyanya bus station a few kilometres south of the city-centre, said spokesman Altine Daniel.
Nigeria’s police chief Mohammed Abubakar had earlier placed officers in the city on “red alert” and ordered security “at all vulnerable targets” to be intensified.
Central Abuja, home to major hotels, foreign missions and sprawling government complexes has been mostly locked down for more than two years, with security reinforced after an August 2011 car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in the city, also blamed on Boko Haram. Health ministry spokesman Dan Nwomeh told AFP the death toll may rise as further victims were identified — a difficult task as their “bodies were totally dismembered”.
But he said most of the 164 wounded were in stable condition.
Boko Haram, which says it is fighting to create a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has carried out scores of attacks across the north and centre of the country since 2009 that have left thousands dead.
But most of the recent violence has been concentrated in the northeast, the Islamists’ traditional stronghold and where the group was founded more than a decade ago.
The military claimed that Boko Haram had been contained in the remote region and lacked the capacity to carry out major attacks in urban centres, a claim undermined by Monday’s massive bombing just a few kilometres from the seat of government. “No serious analyst ever really believed,” that the military had managed to trap Boko Haram in the northeast, said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at the London think-tank Chatham House. The Abuja bombing “isn’t a surprise,” he told AFP. “It’s just a reminder that the threat remains. It is completely consistent with what we know about Boko Haram.”
The World Economic Forum said Tuesday that it would go ahead with an Africa conference schedule for May 7 to May 9 in Abuja despite the bombing and pledged to protect delegates with “the largest security operation ever mounted in (Nigeria) for an international summit.” Some analysts speculated that Nigeria’s overstretched security services may have placed too much emphasis on an ongoing operation in the northeast, where a massive offensive was launched last May to crush the insurgency.
The bus station attack may be “an indication that the insurgents have identified loopholes in Nigeria’s counter-insurgency measures which they will continue to exploit,” said Abdullahi Bawa Wase, a researcher with United Nations Department of Safety and Security, based in central Nigeria’s city of Jos.
“The government has a huge challenge on its hands,” he told AFP.
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