Abuja - A copy-cat bombing in Nigeria's capital that killed 19 people and wounded scores more raised fears on Friday of Boko Haram's growing strength, just days before Abuja hosts a major world summit.
A car bomb at the Nyanya bus station on the outskirts of the capital exploded late Thursday just 50 metres from the site of an April 14 blast that killed 75 people, the deadliest attack ever in Abuja.
Boko Haram Islamists, who have killed thousands in a five-year uprising, claimed responsibility for the previous bombing and were suspected of carrying out the latest attack.
Two deadly blasts within three weeks just a few kilometres from the seat of government have sparked security concerns over the World Economic Forum on Africa meet set to open on May 7, which includes a visit from Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
“Our existing security arrangements are robust,” WEF said in a statement about the conference dubbed the “African Davos”.
“There are no plans to make any changes to the programme or content of the meeting,” it added, offering sympathy for the victims.
Boko Haram analyst Shehu Sani, who has written extensively on religious violence in Nigeria, said the twin Abuja bombings were intended “to send a clear message to the Nigerian government”.
The Islamists wanted to demonstrate that “they can hit anytime and any place at their own choosing”, Sani told AFP. “They are trying to show how weak and incompetent the security forces are.”
Police said the bomb killed 19 people and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) spokesman Manzo Ezekiel told AFP that 80 others were injured.
Three undetonated explosive devices were discovered at the scene, police spokesman Frank Mba said, suggesting the toll could have been much higher had the other bombs gone off.
Much of Boko Haram's recent violence has targeted the remote northeast, the group's historic base, where more the 1,500 people have been killed already this year.
Before April 14, Abuja had not been significantly hit by Boko for more than two years and Sani said the timing of the latest unrest may not have been coincidental.
“The insurgents had a long-term plan of attacking targets outside (the northeast),” he said.
“They may be taking the opportunity to show that even the World Economic Forum can be disrupted.”
Babangida Bello told AFP he was selling oranges at Nyanya when he “suddenly heard a loud explosion” which caused panic at the station that services commuters who work in central Abuja but cannot afford the city's exorbitant rents.
“Everybody was confused,” he said, adding that he saw a nearby drink-seller running for safety before flying shrapnel hit him in the head.
“He fell inside a ditch... and he died,” said Bello.
NEMA's Sidi said a car packed with explosives caused the blast and witnesses identified a small white Volkswagen as the vehicle in question.
“The explosion was from the white car. I saw fire, burning and dead bodies scattered everywhere,” said Victor Okeyode, a driver at the station.
He said a man parked the car and walked away before the explosion went off, suggesting the blast may have been set remotely, but there was no independent confirmation of the claim.
Rescue workers and security agencies deployed massively to Nyanya on Friday, sorting through the remains of charred vehicles around the blast site.
A second attack in three weeks just a few kilometres from the seat of government highlighted the serious threat Boko Haram poses to Africa's most populous country and largest economy.
President Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism over the unrest, which has continued unchecked despite a massive year-long military offensive in the northeast aimed at crushing the uprising.
The bombing came amid mounting public outrage after one of Boko Haram's most shocking attacks - the mass kidnapping of nearly 200 girls from their school in the northeast.
Boko Haram, which says it wants to create a strict Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, has attacked schools, churches, mosques and other symbols of authority in an insurgency that has killed thousands since 2009, but the last the four months have been the deadliest in the uprising.
Sani said the failure of Nigeria's various counter-insurgency strategies has piled pressure on Jonathan's administration.
“The insurgents have survived the military onslaught and the state of emergency” declared in the northeast in May of last year.
As a result, Boko Haram is forcing Nigeria “to accept that fact that their to approach to (ending the violence) is not working,” he said.