Nigerian villagers on Wednesday described the carnage unleashed by a huge market bomb explosion in jihadist group Boko Haram’s northeastern heartland as the death toll rose to 50.
The bomb — concealed in a crop-spraying backpack — ripped through the weekly market in the village of Sabon Gari, around 135 kilometres (85 miles) south of Borno state capital Maiduguri, during peak trading on Tuesday.
“When the blast happened people in the market fled in fear. They abandoned their wares. Some managed to return for their wares but some never came back,” Samaila Biu, a local trader, told AFP.
“The market was littered with all sorts of articles. The mobile phone section was a mess with many dead and pieces of flesh and blood splattered all over.”
The explosion went off at about 1:15 pm, (1215 GMT) Biu said, just after the market had entered its most busy trading hours and the immediate vicinity of the bomb was packed with merchants and shoppers, witnesses said.
Authorities said in the immediate aftermath 47 people had been killed but upped the toll by three overnight.
“One more person died from his wounds and two more bodies were later brought to the morgue from near the scene of the blast. Now there are 50 dead and 51 injured,” a nurse at Biu General Hospital, around 50 kilometres away, told AFP.
– In shock –
Yuram Bura, a member of a local vigilante group fighting Boko Haram alongside the army, said the two bodies recovered later had been found in bush land some distance away from the market.
“We believe they managed to flee the scene with injuries from the explosion but died on the way,” he told AFP.
Dozens of soldiers formed a security ring on Wednesday around the market, which was littered with footwear and clothing and still spattered with congealed blood, and patrolled the streets nearby.
“The village is still in shock although most of the victims were from other places far and near who came to attend the market,” Bura said.
“The villagers can be seen in groups talking about the incident while soldiers and vigilantes remain on alert.”
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but witnesses said the blast bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, which has previously targeted crowded bus stations, markets, mosques and churches during its bloody six-year insurgency.
Washington condemned the attack and said it would continue to provide “a range of counterterrorism assistance to help Nigeria and its regional partners”.
– ‘Senseless brutality’ –
“We will continue to work closely with the Nigerian government and our international partners to combat Boko Haram and assist the many victims of its senseless brutality.”
Boko Haram has killed more than 15,000 people since 2009, increasing the frequency and intensity of its attacks since President Muhammadu Buhari took the helm in Nigeria on May 29.
Ryan Cummings, chief security analyst at South African consultancy Red 24, said the attack demonstrated the “reversion of Boko Haram to a traditional asymmetric warfare”.
“By conducting sporadic attacks targeting civilian interests across much of Nigeria, Boko Haram has created the demoralising perception that it is a threat which is omnipresent, capable of inflicting harm on Nigerians in any given place at any given time,” he told AFP.
Cummings said such acts of mass violence helped the jihadist group to over-inflate the public perception of its strength while undermining the legitimacy of the government as a guarantor of security.
“By conducting attacks outside of its primary strongholds, particularly when targeting urban locales, Boko Haram is effectively absorbing and occupying security resources which could otherwise have been used to counter the group in its operational strongholds,” he added.