Upwards of 50 people were killed in four separate bombings in Maiduguri, a northern regional Nigerian capital, orchestrated by ISIS-affiliated terror group Boko Haram just hours after leader Abubakar Shekau released a new menacing audio message.
Reports indicate that at least 54 people were killed in the numerous blasts, all in the capital of Borno state, though eyewitnesses and locals working to clean up the explosion sites claimed to Agence France-Presse this morning that they could confirm the deaths of at least 85 people. “The figure given by the police is just the number of people taken to hospital,” Sabo Ahmed, a local resident, told AFP, adding that the rest were bodies found during clean up. At least 90 others were injured and hospitalized.
It is not clear how the bombings were orchestrated, save that they occurred nearly simultaneously. Two are believed to have been caused by homemade explosives detonated from afar, while at least one was the work of a female suicide bomber, witnesses claim. They occurred around 8 PM local time, targeting a marketplace, a mosque, and a venue where a group of people were watching a soccer match.
Army Spokesman Sami Usman, reflective of the Nigerian military’s attitude towards all Boko Haram activity in the past month, claimed that the attacks were a sign of a weakened Boko Haram, and “signify (a) high level of desperation on the part of the Boko Haram terrorists.” Usman made a similar statement upon the discovery of Boko Haram terrorists in Lagos, the nation’s biggest city on the opposite end of the country– Boko Haram has not expanded, but simply run away. Vanguard, a Nigerian newspaper, reports that the jihadists also attacked security vehicles near Maiduguri the day before the blasts, indicating that they are operating in the capital of Borno, not just from the nearby Sambisa Forest, believed to be their last major stronghold.
Maiduguri has always been strategically pivotal to Boko Haram, given that the group was founded there, though it has become even more important under the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari, who moved the military’s headquarters out of the capital, Abuja, to Borno’s biggest city.
The bombings on Sunday night followed the release of audio allegedly featuring the head of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, who had released a message last month to confirm that he was alive and that his group had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (Boko Haram’s official name is now the Islamic State West Africa Province). Shekau accuses Buhari and the military of lying about their progress: “They [the military] lied that they have confiscated our arms, that we have been chased out of our territories, that we are in disarray.”
“Buhari is a liar and has deceived you,” he continues, adding, “The army spokesman is also lying. He and his footsoldiers always run helter-skelter whenever we come face to face with them.”
“We are alive, I am alive, this is my voice, more audible than it was before. This is Shekau,” he concludes.
Shekau’s message has not stopped the military from announcing good news, even claiming this week that there has been “progress” in talks with Boko Haram jihadists to have the Chibok, Borno girls kidnapped in April 2014 returned to their families. “The issue of the Chibok girls is very crucial, we are making all efforts to clear the terrorists and after clearing them we rescue the Chibok girls in one piece,” Army head Turku Buratai announced this week. “By and large there is progress,” he insisted. The message was positive despite reports last week that many of the girls kidnapped in that episode are now armed and dangerous jihadists, having been brainwashed by the men whom they were forced to marry.