Rescue workers work to recover victims at the site of a blast at the Nyanya Motor Park, about 16 kilometers from the centre of Abuja, Nigeria. Picture: Gbemiga Olamikan


Abuja - Twin blasts at a bus station packed with morning commuters on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital killed dozens of people on Monday, in what appeared to be the latest attack by Boko Haram Islamists.

The explosions rocked the Nyanya station roughly five kilometres south of Abuja at 6.45am (05.45 GMT) and destroyed about 30 vehicles, mostly large passenger buses, officials and an AFP reporter said.

The head of search and rescue operations at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Charles Otegbade, said one of the blasts “emanated from a vehicle” within the station but the precise nature of the explosion was not immediately clear.

No group has yet claimed the apparent attack, but suspicion is likely to fall on Boko Haram, an insurgent group blamed for killing thousands across northern and central Nigeria since 2009.

The Islamists have attacked Nigeria's capital in the past, most prominently in a 2011 car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in the city that killed at least 26 people.

“Dozens of people were killed in the bomb blasts in Nyanya bus park this morning,” NEMA spokesman Manzo Ezekiel told AFP, adding that witnesses reported hearing two separate explosions.

The explosions left a hole roughly 120 centimetres deep and scattered personal items as well as human flesh across the compound, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

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.

The military in May of last year 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 kilometres 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 favoured targets, including multiple, co-ordinated bombings at a terminal in the northern city of Kano last year that killed more than 40 people.

Rebels based in the southern oil-producing Niger Delta region have also claimed attacks in the capital, notably a car bombing on independence day in 2010.

But that group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), is described by most analysts as being largely defunct.

The explosion on Monday “affected quite a number of people because it was still early in the morning and there was a lot of traffic,” Otegbade told reporters at the scene.

The private Channels television news network showed images of thick black smoke billowing out from the station.

President Goodluck Jonathan was reportedly on his way to the scene to assess the damage.

Jonathan, expected to face a tough re-election battle next February, has faced mounting criticism of the continuing Boko Haram violence.

An escalation of violence in or near Abuja would pile further pressure on the embattled leader.

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has in recent video messages vowed to widen his insurgency outside the group's northeastern stronghold. - Sapa-AFP