Twin suicide bombings executed between Thursday evening and the beginning of the celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid have left at least 64 dead in northern Nigeria, with Boko Haram the likeliest suspect. At least one of the suicide bombers, police have confirmed, was a ten-year-old girl.
The 64 people died in four separate blasts, two in the town of Damaturu, Yobe state, and two in Gombe, the largest city of Gombe state.
The first attack, in Gombe, occurred on Thursday evening as the city’s mostly Muslim population shopped in preparation for the Eid breaking of the fast. This was the larger of the two attacks, killing at least 49 and injuring what Vanguard is describing as “dozens” of people. One witness noted that the bombs, both of which targeted shops, occurred at a time when the markets were “crowded with customers doing some last-minute shopping” for Eid. “I and many other people rushed to assist the victims. While we were trying to attend to the wounded, another blast happened outside a china shop just opposite the footwear shop,” said one witness.
The attack in Damaturu was much smaller and killed at least 12. This attack, on Friday, targeted open-air prayer grounds known as “Eid grounds.” This is the attack in which a ten-year-old girl blew herself up. Given the holiday, the grounds were on heightened security alert, with a checkpoint set up before one could enter the area where individuals were praying. It is at this checkpoint that both bombs went off.
The BBC notes that 300 people have been killed by terrorist attacks in Nigeria in July alone. While no group has officially taken responsibility for these attacks, Boko Haram is likely behind them, as they have commonly used young girls and children as suicide bombers after committing mass abductions from northern Nigerian villages. Boko Haram–now officially a subgroup within the Islamic State terrorist organization–has ramped up activities in the region since May, when newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari took office.
In addition to attacks in Nigeria, Boko Haram terrorists have targeted Chad and Cameroon, both of which have instituted a ban on the public wearing of burqas, or full Islamic face veils. Boko Haram has used suicide bombs to target Chad’s capital, in particular, for the first time in its history. Both nations have joined a military coalition with Nigeria, Niger, and Benin dedicated to eradicating the terrorist group.
The escalation in attacks has added pressure on Buhari, who was elected over incumbent former President Goodluck Jonathan largely because he was perceived as better able to combat the Boko Haram threat. This week, Buhari fired the heads of all armed services, as well as his national security adviser and secretary of defense–all Jonathan appointees. Observers reacted by calling the move “long overdue.”
In a speech to mark the Eid celebrations Friday, Buhari urged Nigerian citizens to be “patient” with him in fighting terrorism. “To succeed, however, I need your continued support, understanding and patience,” he said, adding:
I fully understand and share the thirst of my long-suffering compatriots for corruption-free government institutions that work efficiently to deliver visible development for the benefit of all citizens. I also share the feelings of those who think that we should be moving faster. But I urge them and all Nigerians to trust that my commitment to real and positive change in our nation is as firm as ever.