ABUJA – A bombing at a bus station packed with morning commuters on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital killed 71 people and wounded 124 on Monday, with the president blaming the attack on Boko Haram Islamists.
The explosion rocked the Nyanya station south of Abuja at 6:45 a.m. leaving body parts scattered across the terminal and destroying dozens of vehicles.
It was the deadliest single attack ever to hit Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, which includes Abuja and surrounding areas.
Officials had earlier said that two separate blasts ripped through the compound, but later said the damage may have been caused by just one bomb.
The explosion “emanated from a vehicle” parked within the station, said Charles Otegbade, head of search and rescue at the National Emergency Management Agency.
National police spokesman Frank Mba put the toll at 71 dead and 124 injured, with the wounded being treated at area hospitals.
Visiting the site, President Goodluck Jonathan vowed that Nigeria would overcome the brutal insurgency being waged by Boko Haram, blamed for killing thousands across the north and center of the country since 2009.
“The issue of Boko Haram is quite an ugly history within this period of our own development,” Jonathan said. “But we will get over it . . . The issue of Boko Haram is temporary.”
The Islamists have carried out several previous attacks in and around the capital, including a 2011 car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in the city that killed at least 26 people.
The explosions left a hole roughly four feet (1.2 meters) deep and spread debris across the compound, a reporter and witnesses said.
“I saw bodies taken away in open trucks,” said witness Yakubu Mohammed. “It is difficult to count them because the bodies were burned and in pieces.”
A second witness, Suleiman Aminu, said he believed the initial blast came from a minibus parked near larger commuter vehicles, and that commuters who had lined up to board were the likely target.
Nyanya is a densely populated suburb of Abuja, filled with government and civil society workers who cannot afford the city’s exorbitant rents.
Boko Haram violence has cost more than 1,500 lives already this year, but most of the unrest has affected villages in the remote northeast.
Last May the military launched a massive offensive to crush the Islamist uprising and has described Boko Haram as being in disarray and on the defensive.
A major attack in the capital, just a few kilometers from the seat of government, will likely cast further doubt on the success of that campaign.
Bus parks have been among Boko Haram’s most favored targets, including multiple, coordinated bombings at a terminal in the northern city of Kano last year that killed more than 40 people.
Jonathan, who is expected to face a tough re-election battle next year, has faced intense criticism over the continuing Boko Haram violence.
With much of the recent violence contained in the northeast, Jonathan had been able to claim that progress was being made in the battle against the Islamist rebels.
An escalation of violence in or near Abuja would pile further pressure on the embattled president.
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, who has been declared a global terrorist by the United States, vowed in a recent video message to widen the group’s violence outside its northeastern stronghold.
Jonathan said the latest presumed Boko Haram attack and others like it were “unnecessary distractions that are pushing us backwards.”
Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer and largest economy, but more than 80 percent of the its 170 million people live on less than $2 per day.
Analysts say that the Boko Haram unrest has partly stalled economic growth and scared away potential investors.
“The government is doing everything to make sure that we move our country forward,” Jonathan said.