By Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh
A bomb blast ripped through the United Nations offices in the Nigerian capital of Abuja today (26/08/2011) as a car rammed into the building, and witnesses said they had seen a number of dead bodies being carried from the site.
Police commissioner Mike Zuokumor said at least 18 peoplel were confirmed dead.
One security source in Abuja said he suspected an attack either by Boko Haram, a Nigerian radical Islamist sect, or the North African arm of al Qaeda. Boko Haram’s attacks are growing in intensity and spreading further afield.
The UN building was blacked from top to bottom and the remains of a car had fallen into the basement. Soldiers, firefighters and rescue workers swarmed over the area.
“A car rammed into the building and exploded. This is very likely the work of Boko Haram and, or, AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and is a serious escalation in the security situation in Nigeria,” the security source said. “This is the worst thing that could have happened.”
Ocilaje Michael, a member of the UN staff working at the Abuja building, said he had seen a number of dead bodies after the explosion.
“We just saw the blast coming from the building. All the people in the basement were all killed. Their bodies are littered all over the place. I saw about five dead bodies,” Michael said. A Reuters witness confirmed dead bodies being carried into an ambulance.
Boko Haram, whose name translates from the local northern Hausa language as “Western education is sinful”, has been behind almost daily bombings and shootings, mostly targeting police in the northeast of Africa’s most populous nation.
On Thursday Boko Haram bombed a police station and raided banks in a northeastern Nigerian town, leaving 12 people dead including policemen and a soldier.
In Geneva, UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said an official at the UN information centre in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, had confirmed that a bomb was to blame for Friday’s explosion. She had no further information and it was not clear who was responsible for the attack.
“We have deployed our policemen and anti-bomb squad. We can’t establish how many casualties (there are),” a police spokesman in Abuja said.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operates in neighbouring Niger and has kidnapped foreign workers there. However, it was also suspected of kidnapping a Briton and an Italian in Nigeria earlier this year.
In December 2007, a car bombing at the UN building in Algiers killed at least 41 people, among them 17 UN staff. In 2003, 15 staff and seven others were killed by a bomb attack at the UN building in Baghdad.(Writing by Joe Brock; Additional reporting by Robert Evans in Geneva; Editing by David Stamp) – REUTERS