Eleven people were killed in an explosion in Chad's capital N'Djamena on Monday during a police operation to capture suspected terrorists in the city's Dinguessou neighborhood.
Chad's state prosecutor announced on Monday morning that five suspects, five police officers, and a police informant died in the explosion. According to security sources, one of the presumed terrorists set off his suicide belt when police came. Police seized "several belts of explosives," according to AFP. Graphic photos of mutilated bodies at the scene of the explosion were circulating Monday on Chadian social media.
The deadly blast occurred a mere two weeks after the twin attacks on June 15 by Boko Haram militants that left 34 dead and 101 wounded, and the atmosphere remained tense in the capital on Monday afternoon.
On Sunday, Chadian police dismantled a cell of 60 people suspected of being connected to the June 15 attacks against the police academy and headquarters in the capital. One person believed to be directly involved in the attacks was arrested, and the detained suspects were from Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and Nigeria.
While there seems to be much evidence that Boko Haram militants were behind the blast Monday, William Assanvo, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Senegal, was cautious. "Let's keep in mind that Chad also has a presence in northern Mali to fight terrorist elements," he said. "These may also have been jihadists from Malian groups such as AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), But N'Djamena's proximity to Nigeria would strongly suggest Boko Haram."
Asked about the possible existence of Boko Haram sleeper cells on Chadian soil, Assanvo was cautious, but also noted that "shells and explosives have been found [during the raids early this week]," which could indicate particular "logistics."
Assanvo was "surprised" at the speed at which security forces were able to dismantle the cell, just two weeks after the twin attacks in N'Djamena. American agents from the FBI were reportedly involved in the investigation.
As for the presence of numerous foreigners among the arrestees on Sunday, he said that there was a "broad diversity of populations" in the region, where numerous countries rubbed shoulders.
Roland Marchal, a researcher at CNRS affiliated with the Paris Institute of Political Studies, told VICE News that Boko Haram had little presence in Chad up until December 2014. But that changed in January, when Chad entered the regional war against the Nigerian terrorist organization over concerns about the group's advances in eastern Nigeria and Cameroon, as well as the cross-border area of Lake Chad.
"Chad's forces altered the dynamics of Boko Haram's progress," Marchal explained, saying their involvement in the fight made the country a "target."
A new regional military coalition formed to fight Boko Haram goes into action on July 30 and specifically chose N'Djamena for its headquarters. The commander of France's Operation Barkhane — a mission to fight jihadist groups in the Sahel region — has also set up office in the Chadian capital.
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray
Watch the VICE News documentary, The War Against Boko Haram