Three bombs exploded in northeastern Nigeria on Sunday, killing at least 54 people and wounding another 90 in the city of Maiduguri in Borno state, a police spokesman said Monday.
It was the first such attack to hit the city in nearly two months. In mid-August, a skirmish broke out between suspected Boko Haram militants on the outskirts of Maiduguri.
"A suspected Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated IEDs (improvised explosive devices) at a mosque in Ajilari, and some insurgents also threw IEDs at a viewing center. Total casualty figure is now 54," Victor Isuku, a police spokesman in Maiduguri, told Reuters.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has been trying to carve out a state adhering to strict Islamic laws in the country's northeast since 2009. Maiduguri is the birthplace of the insurgency, which has killed thousands and displaced 2.1 million people.
After President Muhammadu Buhari's inauguration in May, attacks rose across northern Nigeria, and Maiduguri was hit on a near weekly basis. Suspected members of Boko Haram have killed about 800 people since Buhari took office. A new offensive launched by the Nigerian army to clear Boko Haram out of more towns over the last month coincided with a sharp drop in the frequency of attacks in Borno, the state worst affected by the insurrection, and neighboring states.
Sporadic bombings in public venues have become the preferred tactic for the militant group in recent months as the Nigerian Army's offensive has forced the group to retreat into the wilderness. Instead of launching large-scale attacks to gain territory, Boko Haram is now conducting hit-and-run strikes on soft targets.
At a time when many Nigerians had started returning to the villages they fled at the height of Boko Haram's insurgency, the increase in bombing attacks has caused another influx of refugees and internally displaced people. In the last five months alone, attacks have forced thousands from their homes. This reportedly includes 500,000 children mostly from northern Nigeria, but also from Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. According to UNICEF, the number of displaced children has now reached 1.4 million.
While the Nigerian military has talked up its recapturing of territory from Boko Haram, a new audio message purportedly from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau calls the Nigerian army liars for saying troops have regained territory from the militant Islamist group. Nigeria's military said on Friday it had recaptured villages and rescued 90 people in a process that involved the "continuous elimination" of the group from Nigerian territory.
"They have lied about us saying that they retaken our territories, taken weapons and driven us away," the man purported to be Shekau says in the recording posted online. "They are actually the ones whom we have driven away. They are all liars."
The Twitter feed of the jihad-monitoring Site Intelligence said the Hausa language audio message was released by Shekau on Saturday, but this has not been verified elsewhere. In the recording, the speaker appeared to make references to Buhari's visits to US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande in July and September respectively.
"Buhari, you are yet to finish spending Obama's money," he said. "The business you are doing with the money is not over yet because I am here alive. Your business with Francois Hollande is not yet complete because I am still alive."
Nigeria's military has repeatedly claimed that Shekau has been killed over the last few years only for him to resurface in new videos and recordings — although security sources have said he may have been replaced by impostors. In August, Chad President Idriss Deby said Shekau was wounded and had been replaced as leader by Mahamoud Daoud, adding that Shekau went to Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, after he was wounded.
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