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Explosion rocks Maiduguri, again

(AFP ) – A bomb planted by suspected Islamists, Boko Haram wounded eight policemen Friday in the violence-hit city of Maiduguri, the military said, while soldiers were again accused of shooting civilians.

The incidents were the latest violence in Maiduguri, where thousands of residents have fled out of fear of more Islamist attacks and troops’ response, with soldiers earlier accused of shooting civilians and burning homes.

“The bomb was planted and the van drove over it, exploding and injuring eight policemen,” said Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, operations commander for a military-police task force in the northeastern city.

“The bomb was from all indications planted by members of Boko Haram that have been engaged in such attacks.”

An emergency source said there had been reports of shootings by the military, with a number of innocent civilians killed, though he could not yet provide details.

“The situation is very scary,” he said on condition of anonymity. “It’s terrible. Everybody is thinking about their lives.”

Ebhaleme denied soldiers targeted civilians, saying the area had been cordoned off in case of multiple explosions, to collect evidence and for the speedy evacuation of any possible casualties.

“It’s not true that soldiers are attacking residents after the explosion,” he said.

The city has been hit by almost daily bomb blasts and shootings in recent weeks blamed on the Islamist sect known as Boko Haram, which launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault.

Hundreds of troops were recently deployed to Maiduguri to combat the Islamists. Soldiers were last weekend accused of shooting civilians and burning their houses over accusations that residents cooperated with the Islamists, which the military denies.

The military said explosives set off by the Islamists caused the buildings to burn.

The sect claims to be fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria, a country of some 150 million people roughly divided in half between Christians and Muslims.

It reemerged last year with a series of hit-and-run shootings targeting politicians, community leaders, police and soldiers, before turning to bombings, which have intensified in recent weeks. The attacks have also become increasingly deadly.

There has been intense speculation over whether some of the violence has been politically motivated and whether Boko Haram may have links to Islamist groups outside of Nigeria.

Most of the violence has occurred in Maiduguri and other areas of the mainly Muslim north, but a bomb ripped though a car park at national police headquarters in Abuja last month in an audacious attack.

A group of elders in Maiduguri have called for the withdrawal of troops from the city, saying the deployment has only worsened the situation.

A man claiming to be a spokesman for the sect has said that no ceasefire is possible until troops are withdrawn.


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