ABUJA, Nigeria – Suspected Islamic militants struck in the heart of Nigeria on Monday with a massive rush-hour bomb blast at a bus station that killed at least 72 people and wounded 164.
It marked the deadliest attack ever on the nation’s capital.
Survivors screamed in anguish and the stench of burning fuel and flesh hung over the area, where billows of black smoke rose as firefighters worked to put extinguish fires.
Rescue workers and police gathered body parts as ambulances rushed the wounded to hospitals.
Visiting the blast scene, President Goodluck Jonathan blamed Boko Haram, the homegrown terrorist network that has targeted schools, churches, mosques, villages and government facilities, killing thousands in its five-year campaign to make Nigeria an Islamic state.
Authorities said at least 72 people were killed and 164 wounded, though the death toll seemed sure to climb because it did not include victims whose bodies were dismembered, the health ministry said. It was the deadliest attack yet in Abuja, the centrally located capital that is hundreds of miles from Boko Haram’s stronghold in Nigeria’s northeast.
I can’t count the number of people that died. They took them in open vehicles. People were running and there was confusion, civil servant Ben Nwachukwu said.
A counterterrorism expert said the bomb appeared to have been buried underground, while the emergency management agency said the explosives were apparently hidden in a vehicle.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, though bus stations are a favored Boko Haram target. In March 2013, the extremists drove a car bomb into the main bus station in Kano, Nigeria’s second-biggest city, killing at least 25.
The explosion, which struck at 6:45 a.m. local time in the poor satellite neighborhood of Nyanya, left a 4-foot-deep crater and destroyed 16 luxury buses and 24 minibuses and cars, police spokesman Frank Mba said.
Security workers battled to cordon off the area as a bomb detonation team combed it for secondary explosives amid fiery blasts from exploding car tanks ignited by the blaze.
Thousands of bystanders gathered, ignoring warnings to stay away.