10:46 pm - Wednesday November 4, 2015

Two blasts kill at least 20 in restive northern Nigeria

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Two blasts rocked crisis-hit northern Nigeria on Monday, with one bombing killing at least 20 people and a second explosion setting fire to a market, where heavy casualties were feared.

The targeted cities of Bauchi and Gombe have both been hit previously by Boko Haram and while there was no claim of responsibility for the latest unrest, the Islamists were suspected.

Separately, witnesses said Boko Haram gunmen stormed the northeast town of Geidam at the weekend, razing several government buildings and a prison in an attack that set many inmates free.Violence in the northeast is escalating ahead of Nigeria’s February 14 general elections, with many concerned that voting will be impossible in large parts of the region.

The first bombing hit the Dukku motor park on the outskirts of Gombe city, capital of Gombe state, at roughly 10:50 am (0950 GMT), officials said.

State secretary for the Red Cross Abubakar Yakubu Gombe said his staff sent 20 body bags to the scene and “they have all been exhausted”, adding that another 18 people with “serious” injuries had been taken to hospital.

The bomb had been planted near a bus that was waiting to fill up, officials said.

The Islamists have claimed a number of attacks at bus stations, often targeting people who are heading to Nigeria’s mainly Christian south.

Witness Awwalu Lame said a mob formed at the station shortly after the blast went off, with locals throwing stones at the security services.

Anger has risen across northern Nigeria amid complaints that the security services have repeatedly failed to contain the violence.

– Market in flames –

The second blast hit Bauchi city, the capital of Bauchi state, at roughly 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) but there was no confirmation that a bomb was responsible.

“There was an explosion in the market with a large number of women traders,” said Adamu Abubakar of the Red Cross in Bauchi. “There are heavy casualties of course, but for now we can’t do anything until the fire is put out.”

Multiple witnesses gave a similar account, including Ishak Lawan, who said firefighters were struggling to control the raging inferno.

– Town ransacked –

Boko Haram gunmen stormed Geidam in Yobe state on Sunday, setting fire to several buildings and forcing residents to flee into the bush, witnesses said.

“They were chanting Allahu Akbar and firing shots and throwing bombs,” said resident Adamu Shehu.

“We spent a night in the bush but from afar we could see in the darkness flames and smoke coming from the town,” he said.

Geidam is the hometown of Yobe’s governor Ibrahim Geidam and his home was also razed, witnesses said.

The attackers rampaged late into the night and reportedly faced no resistance from the military.

While some people fled, others locked themselves in houses that were later torched and locals were going door-to-door to see if any lives were lost.

“Our town is a mess,” said resident Brema Umar, who reported that scores of people had fled overnight, many towards Yobe’s capital Damaturu, 180 kilometres (110 miles) to the north.

Both residents said the attack included a prison break and that many inmates fled, but there was no official confirmation of these details.

– Crisis worsening –

President Goodluck Jonathan, who is running for a second term, has on several occasions claimed that Boko Haram’s defeat was imminent, even as the violence has escalated.

The insurgency has killed more than 13,000 people and forced more than 1.5 million others from their homes, straining resources in the embattled northeast, as communities struggle to care for those displaced.

Underscoring the severity of the crisis, 185 people, mostly women and children, were kidnapped on December 14 from the town of Gumsuri in Borno.

The attack recalled the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from a school in the town of Chibok in April, a mass abduction that Jonathan vowed would not happen again.

The president’s opponent in February polls, ex-military dictator Muhammadu Buhari from the mainly Muslim north, is seen by some as better placed to contain the Boko Haram threat, but experts say he may struggle to unseat an incumbent with the backing of a wealthy ruling party.

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