Week of Attacks in Nigeria Demonstrate Boko Haram’s Increasing CapabilitiesJune 30, 2014 in Nigeria
Over the past week, Nigeria has seen nearly daily attacks throughout the entire country, including the third attack in Abuja in ten weeks. With Boko Haram militants suspected to be behind the latest deadly violence, many are warning that these latest attacks now demonstrate that the militant group is capable of carrying out attacks across the country at any time.
Third Attack in Abuja
On Wednesday 25 June, Nigeria’s national rescue agency reported that a loud explosion hit a crowded shopping center in the Wuse district of Nigeria’s capital Abuja, killing twenty-four people and wounding at least seventeen. A statement released by Manzo Ezekie, spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) indicated “we received the information at about 4:00 PM (1500 GMT) about a blast” at the Emab Plaza, which is located not far from the seat of government. The statement further indicated that a “rescue operation has already commenced.” Nigerian authorities have arrested one suspect and that a second suspect was shot dead by troops as he attempted to escape on a motorbike. Although Boko Haram has not made any official confirmations pertaining to this attack, the militant group is suspected of carrying it out.
Although Boko Haram’s attacks have mostly targeted the northeastern regions of the country, over the past ten weeks, the militant group has attacked the capital twice. On 14 April more than seventy people were killed in a bomb blast at a bus stop on the outskirts of the capital city while the following month, a car bomb near a bus station in the suburbs killed at least nineteen people and injured sixty others.
Days after the bomb attack, Nigeria’s intelligence agency reported that over the past two weeks, it had been warning shopping complexes in Abuja that Islamic extremists may target them.
According to Marily Ogar, spokeswoman for the Department of State Security, Nigerian intelligence officials had received information that Boko Haram extremists were planning such an attack, adding “about two weeks ago we heard information that they were planning an attack at a busy shopping mall or market…and so we had to go from one shopping complex to another trying to tell people to be more aware.” Although the state department did not publish the intelligence reports on the threat to shopping malls, in an apparent attempt to avoid wide panic, last week the government warned that it had received information that Boko Haram was planning to hijack petrol tankers in the capital and to plant explosives inside.
Emab Plaza, where the attack occurred Wednesday, is the biggest and busiest shopping center in Abuja. The explosion occurred around rush hour as many residents were hurrying to view Nigeria’s football team play against Argentina at the World Cup in Brazil. While it remains unclear if the bomb was timed to coincide with that, Boko Haram has in the past bombed several football viewing venues, prompting two northeastern states to ban public events to watch the football tournament.
On the ground sources have reported that the increased security throughout the city may have prevented the attack from killing even more as witnesses reported that a security guard had stopped a car bomber from entering the mall just moments before the massive explosion on Wednesday.
Continued Attacks in Northern Nigeria
Days after an attack targeted a shopping center in Abuja, an explosion in the northern city of Bauchi has killed at least ten people and injured fourteen others.
Bauchi state police spokesman Mohammed Haruna confirmed Saturday that the targeted building in the Bayan Gari neighborhood, which is located on the outskirts of the city, was widely known as a brothel. He further indicated “ten people were confirmed dead, while 14 others sustained various degrees of injury,” adding that the explosion went off at roughly 10:00 PM (2100 GMT). Police officers have cordoned off the entire area and an investigation into the attack is ongoing.
Bomb attacks on targets, which Boko Haram has branded sinful, including churches, bars and schools teaching a Western curriculum, have formed a major part of the militant group’s insurgency. Nigerian officials estimate that more than 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in 2009. In recent months, the violence has escalated with more than 3,000 deaths recorded since the start of this year.
Suspected Boko Haram militants, armed with explosives, attacked a number of churches on Sunday near Chibok, the northeastern town where more than 200 teenage girls were kidnapped nearly three months ago.
Residents have indicated that gunmen riding on motorcycles opened fire on worshippers and pursued them as they tried to flee into the bush. The attackers also threw explosives into churches as services were on going and torched several buildings. Dozens of people are reported to have been killed in the raids on villages located roughly 10 kilometers (6 miles) outside Chibok, however no one has been able to provide an official death toll. The targeted villages have been identified as Kwada, Ngurojina, Karagau and Kautikari. All are located in Borno state, which is the stronghold of the Militant group. Another resident reported “the attackers went to churches with bombs and guns,” adding “from what I gathered, dozens of worshippers, including men, women and children were killed.” Several residents in the area also reported that the Nigerian military had not responded to distress calls, which were sent out shortly after the attack began. While these reports have not been verified, if confirmed, it will likely raise further questions about the military’s efforts in the northeastern region of Nigeria, which is the epicenter of the insurgency.
Last week’s incidents throughout the country have effectively cemented the fact that Boko Haram militants are now capable of carrying out attacks anywhere in Nigeria, sparking fears that the militant group is now seeking to expand its insurgency, moving further south towards Abuja. The attacks have also demonstrated the Nigerian government and military’s inability to coordinate received intelligence and thwart attacks.