A bombing at a market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri killed at least 15 people as the military said it arrested an Islamist militant Boko Haram cell leader who was involved in the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April.
A van laden with improvised explosive devices and charcoal exploded this morning at Monday market in Maiduguri, Nigeria’s Defense Headquarters said on its Twitter account, without specifying the number of casualties. Goni Kyari, a local vigilante group official in the city, said by phone that at least 15 bodies were sent to a mortuary. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
“The causality number is very high,” Mohammed Kanar, the Nigerian National Emergency Agency northeast coordinator, said by phone, without being more specific. “Several people who were injured are now recuperating in hospitals.”
The arrested Boko Haram suspect, a businessman who deals in tricycles and who used his membership of a youth vigilante group as cover, helped orchestrate the April kidnappings, military spokesman Chris Olukolade said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The man also may have spearheaded the murder of the Emir of Gwoza and coordinated “several deadly attacks” in Maiduguri since 2011, he said. It’s the first time anyone linked to the abductions has been apprehended.
The authorities also arrested an unspecified number of suspected female Boko Haram members, one of whom was involved in the group’s payroll operations, said Olukolade. “She disclosed that a minimum of 10,000 naira ($61) is paid to each operative depending on the enormity of his task,” he said.
Nigerian security forces are struggling to contain an insurgency by Boko Haram, which is fighting to impose Islamic law on Africa’s biggest oil producer. The violence has killed thousands of people. The group, whose name means “western education is a sin,” claimed responsibility for the abduction of the girls from a school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, threatened in video messages to sell the schoolgirls in “markets,” marry them off and hold them until the Nigerian government frees imprisoned members of his group. The U.S. and U.K. sent teams to Nigeria to help the government find the schoolgirls, and Israel and France have pledged assistance.
Nigeria, a country of about 170 million people with Africa’s largest economy, is divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south. President Goodluck Jonathan has said Boko Haram is part of al-Qaeda and poses a threat to countries throughout the region. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and U.S. lawmakers have criticized his government’s handling of the schoolgirls’ abduction.
Last weekend, soldiers in Goniri in northeastern Yobe state fought militants with unspecified casualties on both sides, said Olukolade.