Police and residents reported Tuesday that an explosion ripped through a football viewing centre in Damaturu, northern Nigeria, as fans were gathering to watch a World Cup game.
The blast, which occurred at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of the state capital of Yobe, occurred shortly after the tournament began at 8:00 PM (1900 GMT). Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a suicide bomber has killed at least twenty-one people and wounded twenty-seven. Sanusi Ruf’ai, police commissioner for Yobe state, confirmed the attack, stating “there was an explosion outside a soccer viewing center here in Damaturu at around 8:15 PM….Our men have deployed to the scene but it’s too early for us to give details.” On the ground sources have reported that the area has been cordoned off and that police and soldiers are investigating, while eyewitnesses have indicated that the suicide bomber, who was in a tricycle taxi, detonated explosives as people were watching the match. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, suspicions have fallen on Boko Haram, as the militant group has previously targeted big screen venues showing soccer matches.
The latest blast comes after at least two Nigerian states banned viewing centers on security grounds following previous similar attacks, which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Last week, authorities in Adamawa state closed viewing centers, where large crowds gather to watch the matches on large screens. The central state of Plateau followed suit days later. The decision by authorities to close the viewing centers is in response to repeated threats by the militant group and a blast that occurred earlier this month. A bomb went off after a football match in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state. The incident killed at least forty people. In May, three people were killed in a blast outside a viewing center that was showing the European Champions League final in the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, while in April, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, in northeastern Yobe state, shooting dead two people as they watched the Champions League quarter-final matches.
Boko haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau has previously preached against football and has threated to carry out attacks during this year’s World Cup football tournament. In several video clips, he described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion. While football is Nigeria’s national sport, and has many followers, many residents living in the northern regions of the country have indicated that they will watch the World Cup at home because of fears of Boko Haram attacks.
Similar fears have also put a number of east African nations on high alert amidst fears that Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked-al-Shabaab will carryout similar attacks during football screenings.
Earlier this week, officials in Britain released warnings to citizens in several east African nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, warning of the threat of terrorist attacks at public screenings of the World Cup games. A statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office indicated “previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed,” adding that crowded areas, including “transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars” are possible targets for the militant group.
A high-ranking Niger security official has confirmed that armed bandits have killed a Niger soldier and seriously wounded three others in Nigeria’s volatile north-eastern region. Meanwhile officials in Nigeria have confirmed that the military carried out air strikes on a Boko Haram camp just days after the militant group’s insurgents killed forty students at a school in northern Nigeria.
In new violence that has hit Nigeria’s northern region, which is considered as the home base of Boko Haram, officials have indicated that “a soldier from Niger was killed yesterday (Wednesday) around 7:00pm (1800 GMT) and three others were wounded in an attack by eight armed bandits on Nigerian territory.” The three wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in eastern Nigeria’s Diffa region, which is located near the border with Niger. According to reports, the soldiers were part of a West African force that is based in Baga, a town that is located in Nigeria’s Borno state. Sources have claimed that the soldiers were “ambushed by Boko Haram, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border with Niger.”
Meanwhile Nigeria’s military has launched air strikes on a Boko Haram camp, killing several Islamist militants, near a northeastern college campus where insurgents killed forty students over the past weekend. According to a military spokesman in Yobe, Lazarus Eli, the operation, which was carried out on Tuesday, involved troops tracking “…Boko Haram terrorists to their camp in the forest outside Gujba,” adding that fighters jets bombarded the camp while troops launched a ground offensive, which left several terrorists dead.” The latest military operation comes just after heavily armed Boko Haram gunmen attacked an agricultural college in Gujba on Sunday, killing forty students as they slept in their dorms. Gujba is located roughly 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Yobe’s capital city of Damaturu. The weekend school massacre cast further doubts on the success of the ongoing military campaign, which was launched in May of this year. Since June, more than one hundred people have been killed as a result of a number of school attacks that have been carried out by Boko Haram militants. Dozens of others have also been killed in violence that has occurred across the northeast, which is Boko Haram’s historic stronghold. According to an estimate made earlier this year, the four-year insurgency has cost more than 3,600 lives, however the current figure is likely much higher. Boko Haram’s insurgents have stated that they are fighting in order to create an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north.