Nigeria capital bomb raises fear of spreading war

The worst-ever bomb attack on Nigeria’s capital, which killed at least 72 people, has sparked concern Islamists are shifting their targets from the northeast to the center and south of Africa’s biggest oil producer.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who visited the scene, blamed the Islamist militant group Boko Haram for the car bomb that exploded at 6:55 a.m. local time Monday in Nyanya district, about nine kilometers (5.6 miles) from the Abuja city center. The death toll rose from 71 Monday after one person died overnight, while the number of injured increased to 133 from 124, Muhammad Sani Sidi, director-general of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, told reporters in Abuja Tuesday.

Security forces are fighting a four-year-old insurgency by Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of people in gun and bomb attacks in the country’s north and Abuja. With less than a year before general elections, the government is increasingly stretched in its efforts to quell violence across huge swathes of the West African nation, which has Africa’s biggest economy.

“Monday’s bombing was the first successful terrorist attack in the federal capital since 2011 and it has further raised concerns on the potential spread of the Islamist insurgency beyond its traditional strongholds in the North East,” Poole, Britain-based risk consultancy Drum Cussac said in emailed comments Tuesday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing. “The perpetrators of this attack, and those responsible for the continuing brutal attacks in the northeast of the country, must be brought to justice,” he said in an e- mailed statement late Monday.

Jonathan Monday ordered heightened security in Abuja, a city of about 1 million people. Nigeria will proceed with hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa next month, deploying more than 6,000 security personnel, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a letter to participants. The conference, which is due to be attended by Jonathan, Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, is scheduled to open in Abuja on May 7.

“Even though the attack occurred on the outskirts of Abuja, it nonetheless struck at the core of the transport system as many workers in Abuja commute to work from satellite towns on the outskirts,” Thomas Hansen, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks in London, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Monday’s bombing was even deadlier than the attack on a church on Christmas Day in 2011 that killed at least 43 people. Boko Haram, which is seeking to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, in the country, also claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb that left more than 23 people dead at the UN building in Abuja that same year.

“When the bomb exploded, it caught four large buses filled with passengers and many smaller ones, destroying them completely,” Yakubu Pam, a bus driver who passed by the area 20 minutes after the blast, said in an interview.

Nigeria’s military has sought to contain the violence in the northeast of the country, with Jonathan declaring a state of emergency in three states in the region. The violence there has claimed more than 4,000 lives and forced almost half a million to flee their homes, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said this month.

Weekend attacks by suspected Boko Haram members killed 217 people in the country’s northeastern state of Borno, a senator representing the region said.

Nigeria’s population of about 170 million is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a largely Christian south.

This month, police said they sent special forces to the northwestern state of Zamfara after an attack that may have killed more than 200 people. In March, the army started operations against “criminal gangs” in the central states of Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa, which borders the Federal Capital Territory, home to Abuja.

“People are worried that the government has not been able to take action that assures them that it’s on top of the security situation in the country,” Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, said by phone from the capital. “The question that comes up is whether the government can really describe itself as a strong, big economy when it cannot provide security?”

– With assistance from Dulue Mbachu in Abuja and Chris Kay in Lagos.