Two female suicide bombers killed 22 people on Wednesday during morning prayers at a mosque on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the heart of a seven-year-old insurgency by Islamist Boko Haram militants, the military has confirmed.
The attack, which also wounded 18 people, took place at about 5:30 am in the village of Ummarari, six kilometres from the centre of the capital of Borno State, the birthplace of Boko Haram.
It was the first such assault in the northeast since early February, when two suicide bombers – also women – blew themselves up at a camp for internally displaced people in Dikwa, 85 km (50 miles) from Maiduguri.
Spokesperson for the Army, Colonel Sani Usman, said in a statement that the first attack targeted a mosque while the second occurred about 50 metres away a few minutes later.
“This is to confirm that there were twin person-borne improvised explosive attack carried out by two female carriers in Ummarari village near Molai, outskirts of Maiduguri metropolis, Borno State, this morning,” the statement said. “Sadly, 22 people were killed and 18 others sustained various degrees of injuries.”
“Troops, security agents and care givers have been mobilized to scene, while the wounded have been evacuated to Molai General Hospital for treatment.”
Coordinator of the civilian JTF, Abba Aji, corroborated the statement, saying “The troops, security agents and the Civilian JTF have secured the area and are combing the environment for possible clues. One bomber blew up inside the mosque and the second waited outside to detonate as survivors tried to escape.”
The toll rose when rescuers digging through rubble discovered five more injured people and recovered four more bodies, including the bombers, according to emergency official Mohammed Chullu.
Umar Usman said he escaped because he was late to worship. “We were just a few meters away from the mosque when a loud bang erupted and all we could see was dark smoke and bodies littered around,” he told The Associated Press.
A hospital official said 13 bodies already have been claimed for the speedy burials required by Muslim tradition.
The Army extended its condolences to the victims’ families, adding: “We wish to reassure the public that we would continue to rout the remnants of the Boko Haram terrorists, wherever they may be hiding.
“We will not rest on our oars until all those that masterminded these latest heinous and other similar crimes are apprehended and brought to justice.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the first in Maiduguri since 65 people were killed in January, but it resembled others by Boko Haram in its campaign to carve out an Islamic state in the region.
“One of the two female bombers, disguised as a male worshipper, joined other Muslim brothers in the mosque at Ummarari-Molai during … prayers,” said Malum Farouk, a member of the Civilian JTF – a grassroots security group in a civilian joint task force.