Suicide bomber kills 47 at school assembly in Nigeria

Boko Haram suspected of murderous attack by bomber who dressed as a schoolboy to get inside building

Potiskum General Hospital
(Image credit: AP)

At least 47 pupils have died at a school assembly in Nigeria where a suicide bomber, believed to be dressed as a pupil, blew himself up. The explosion was at a boys' technical school in the north-eastern town of Potiskum.

Police say the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, whose name translates as 'western education is forbidden', is behind the atrocity. The group believes girls should not attend school and boys should only study the Koran.

A police spokesman told the BBC that the blast had left 47 dead and another 79 wounded. It happened at 7.30am local time. A witness told the BBC: "It was a devastating attack. Dozens of children lost their lives and many more were injured. Some had broken limbs."

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Soldiers who arrived at the scene were pelted with stones by crowds that included distraught relatives. They accused the troops of not doing enough to stop Boko Haram, which has waged a five-year campaign for an Islamic state

Potiskum is in Yobe state, one of three placed under a state of emergency because of the group's terror campaign. Last week, a suicide bombing in the town killed 15 people in a Shia Muslim religious procession.

The BBC's Will Ross says the timing of the blast indicates it was intended to kill as many as possible. Last February, a raid on a school in another Yobe town, Buni Yadi, saw dozens of boys burnt to death, shot or killed.

In April, Boko Haram attracted international attention by kidnapping more than 200 girls from a boarding school in Chibok town, Borno state. The whereabouts of most of the girls is still not known.

Boko Haram: kidnapped women stage 'bold' escape

07 July

A group of Nigerian girls and women kidnapped by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram last week has returned home after escaping from their captors over the weekend.

According to The Independent, 63 women and girls fled Boko Haram's compound "when the insurgents went to attack soldiers and police officers in Bamboa on Friday night and Saturday morning".

Abbas Gava, a spokesman for a local Borno vigilante group, said that "12 soldiers, five policemen, over 50 Boko Haram members and unspecified number of civilians were killed" during the attack on Saturday morning, Nigeria's Premium Times reports.

"I have just received an alert from my colleagues in Damboa area that about 63 of the abducted women and girls had made it back home," Gava continued. "We don’t have the details of their escape yet, but we believe God gave them the opportunity at the time the insurgents came in their large numbers to attack Damboa."

The Daily Telegraph says the report was confirmed by "a high-level security source in the Borno state capital Maiduguri".

In April a group of about 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, most of whom are still being held prisoner. A well-publicised Twitter campaign, #bringbackourgirls, has drawn attention to the captives' plight, but "the overstretched and under-resourced military" has been unable to organise a rescue mission, the Telegraph says.

Local activists are still working to ensure the safe return of the 220 remaining prisoners and protesting against the government's slow response to the kidnappings. Members of the Bring Back Our Girls movement attempted to march on Nigeria's presidential palace on Sunday to protest, but were turned away by security forces.

"We have been coming out for 68 days and nobody has really listened to us,” activist Aisha Yesufu told reporters. She said the group “decided that we should just take the protest back to the president so that he will know that we are still out there".

Boko Haram: deal to free kidnapped girls 'called off'

27 May

The Nigerian government has called off a deal to free some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic militants Boko Haram, just before their release was due to be secured.

They were set to be freed in exchange for the release of imprisoned members of the terror group, the BBC reports, but the plan was cancelled shortly before a swap was due to take place. No reason was given for the decision, but it came after Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, returned from talks in Paris.

In another development, the Nigerian military has said that it knows where the missing girls are, but has ruled out using force to rescue them.

"The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you," Air Marshal Alex Badeh was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph. "But where they are held, can we go there with force? We can't kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back".

Most officials think that a raid to rescue the girls is not likely, as the risk to the kidnapped girls is too high. Recent attacks attributed to the group, including a car bomb attack in a marketplace that killed 118 people show that Boko Haram is "an Islamist group that has shown a degree of ruthlessness in killing civilians", the Telegraph notes.

Official talks have been held with Boko Haram to try to secure the release of the schoolgirls, the BBC reports.

An intermediary met leaders of the group and visited the location where the girls are being held. An agreement was close to being finalised when President Jonathan cancelled the plan. His intervention came after he returned from a meeting in Paris hosted by the French president, Francois Hollande, at which a "global and regional action plan" had been agreed.

Nigerian authorities have been heavily criticised for their slow response to the kidnap of more than 200 girls from their boarding school in the northern town of Chibok.

Some reports suggest that many of the girls have been sold as child brides for as little as £12, The Times says.

David Mark, president of the Nigerian Senate, said at the weekend: "This government cannot negotiate with criminals and... will not exchange people for criminals".

UN imposes sanctions on Boko Haram

23 May

The UN Security Council has voted to impose sanctions on Boko Haram, five weeks after the militant group abducted more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls.

Members of Boko Haram are now subject to an international asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo, and will be added to a list of groups linked to al-Qaeda.

Australian UN Ambassador Gary Quinlan, the chair of the al-Qaeda sanctions committee that proposed the move, said the imposition of sanctions was "an essential step we had to take", adding that the aim was to "dry up support" for the group.

Analysts say it is difficult to predict what practical effect the sanctions will have, according to the BBC. But US ambassador Samantha Power hailed the sanctions as "an important step [in defeating] Boko Haram and holding its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities".

Boko Haram recently sparked global outrage when members of the group kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school in Chibok, in north-eastern Borno state. Earlier this week the militant group was blamed for the deaths of 122 people in a twin bomb attack in the central city of Jos.

Around 200 protesters in the central city of Abuja held a demonstration yesterday calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to do more to find the missing girls. The march was halted by police, and representatives of the president read a statement to demonstrators asking that their "zeal is matched with a realistic understanding of the situation".

According to Al Jazeera, the statement "irked the demonstrators, who demanded to meet Jonathan".

"Please let Mr President know that none of the issues raised has been addressed," said march organiser Obi Ezekwesili, a former education minister and World Bank executive.

In the search for the missing girls, Nigeria has accepted help from British, French and Israeli specialists, as well as deploying US manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft.

Boko Haram blamed as Nigeria bomb attacks kill at least 118

21 May

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has been blamed for a twin car bomb attack that killed 118 people and left many more injured in the central Nigerian city of Jos yesterday.

The first bomb exploded in a busy marketplace, killing scores of people and burying many more in the debris of collapsed buildings. A second bomb went off half an hour after the first explosion at a nearby hospital, killing some of the rescue workers who had rushed to the scene, The Times reports.

"The exact figure of the dead bodies recovered as of now is 118," Mohammed Abdulsalam, co-ordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency in the city, said. He added that more bodies could be found as rescue teams continued to search through rubble.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but according to the Times, it is thought to be the work of militant Islamist terror organisation Boko Haram. Most of the victims were women who were working in the market, a spokesman for the state governor told the AFP news agency.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has been criticised for his failure to control the recent spate of terror attacks. Last night he condemned the bombings calling them a "tragic assault on human freedom". Jonathan's office said that the president and his government remained "fully committed to winning the war against terror and... will not be cowed by the atrocities of enemies of human progress and civilisation".

The BBC's Will Ross says previous attacks on the city of Jos have been seen as "an effort by Boko Haram to spark clashes between Christians and Muslims in the often volatile Middle Belt region of Nigeria". In the wake of the bombings, religious leaders appealed for calm.

Hundreds of schoolgirls are still missing since being kidnapped by Boko Haram militants last month. Britain and the US have sent spy planes and intelligence experts to help the Nigerian government in their search for the missing girls.

Boko Haram kidnap: rescue efforts intensify in Nigeria

15 May

CANADA is the latest country to join the international operation to rescue hundreds of Nigerian girls abducted from their school by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram last month. Special forces are working alongside teams from the US, UK, France and Israel.

"International operations have commenced in collaboration with the Nigerian military," said Mike Omeri, the coordinator of Nigeria's national information centre. "The operations are being carried out in conjunction with Nigerian troops."

The operation includes surveillance and intelligence actions, Omeri said. US spy planes have been deployed over Nigeria to assist with the search, and yesterday David Cameron told parliament that Britain had offered to send an RAF Sentinel R1 spy plane, as well as a military team.

Nigeria has also announced that it is willing to negotiate with the group's leader Abubakar Shekau, but President Goodluck Jonathan has ruled out the release of any Boko Haram prisoners.

Mark Simmonds, Britain's minister for Africa, said that during his talks with Jonathan, the president "made it very clear that there will be no negotiation with Boko Haram that involves a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners", The Guardian reports.

But military operations against Boko Haram suffered a setback when Nigerian soldiers opened fire on their commander in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri.

Witnesses said that soldiers shot at Major-General Ahmed Mohammed's car at the Maimalari barracks. The soldiers blame military top brass for the deaths their colleagues in an ambush by suspected Boko Haram militants on Tuesday.

According to the BBC's Nigeria analyst Naziru Mikailu, the shooting shows that "morale within the army is low".

Elsewhere villagers claim to have killed and detained scores of Boko Haram fighters in vigilante actions in the country's northern states, The Independent reports. Residents in Kalabalge, a village 155 miles from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, said they were "taking matters into their own hands" because the government was not doing enough to tackle the Islamic militants.

Boko Haram: US spy planes join search for kidnapped girls

13 May

US SURVEILLANCE aircraft have been deployed over Nigeria to help search for hundreds of schoolgirls abducted last month by the Islamist group Boko Haram, the White House has confirmed.

A senior Obama administration official said on Monday that planes and satellite imagery were being used to try to locate the girls.

"We have shared commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and are flying manned ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets over Nigeria with the government's permission," the official said.

The US has also sent military advisors and law-enforcement officials to assist in the search for hundreds of girls who were seized by Boko Haram last month from a school in the village of Chibok, in the north-eastern Borno region of the country, the Daily Telegraph reports. A number of the girls managed to escape but approximately 200 are still missing.

It is not known which planes are being used in the search, but the BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan says the US has an arsenal of sophisticated aircraft "that can listen into a wide range of mobile phone and telecommunications traffic".

Two other US officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the White House was also considering deploying unmanned, drone aircraft to assist with the search.

Intelligence analysts are scouring a new video released yesterday for clues on the location of the missing schoolgirls. One leader in the town of Chibok, Pogu Bitrus, said that the vegetation in the video was similar to that found in the nearby Sambisa forest reserve.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has said that he believes the girls are still in Nigeria.

In the latest video, The militant Islamist group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, said he would release the schoolgirls in exchange for the Nigerian government freeing all Boko Haram prisoners.

The UK, the US, France and China already have experts operating on the ground in Nigeria, the BBC says. An Israeli counter-terrorism unit is also expected to arrive this week.

Boko Haram 'shows kidnapped schoolgirls' in new video

12 May

A NEW video released by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram appears to show some of the schoolgirls kidnapped from their school in northern Nigeria last month.

In the video, broadcast by Sky News, the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau speaks for 17 minutes claiming that the girls have converted to Islam. He said that the girls would not be released until all Boko Haram prisoners held by the Nigerian government were freed.

The BBC's John Simpson says that Boko Haram's comments showed signs “that the group were willing to negotiate”.

In the video, the schoolgirls wear full-length hijabs and are heard praying in an undisclosed location.

Before the video emerged, the governor of Nigeria’s Borno state says that he has credible information on where the girls are being held. Kashim Shettima said in an interview with the BBC that the girls have been sighted, and the locations have been "conveyed to the relevant military authorities".

According to the latest intelligence, the schoolgirls are still in Nigeria and have not been taken out of the country into neighbouring Chad or Cameroon, Shettima said.

More than 270 girls were seized by Boko Haram last month from a school in Borno's north-eastern village of Chibok. A number of the girls managed to escape but approximately 200 are still missing.

The US, UK and Israel have agreed to send advisors to provide technical support to the Nigerian government. The Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said that an Israeli counter-terrorism unit would arrive imminently to assist in the search operation.

Stories from teenagers who escaped from the Islamic extremist group have begun to emerge. One of the girls said that the kidnapping was "too terrifying for words".

Sarah Lawan, a 19-year-old science student, told The Independent that more of the girls could have escaped but they were afraid that they would be shot. "I am pained that my other colleagues could not summon the courage to run away with me," Lawan said. "I cry each time I come across their parents and see how they weep when they see me."

According to local police, 53 of the kidnapped girls managed to escape.

The French president Francois Hollande offered to host a summit on Boko Haram. Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad are expected to be invited to attend, as well as aides from the US, UK and EU.

Boko Haram: Michelle Obama to deliver address

10 May

Michelle Obama will deliver her husband's weekly presidential address to condemn last month's abduction of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram.

The US First Lady has been a vocal campaigner for the release of more than 200 girls. Earlier this week, she tweeted a picture of herself holding a sign with the message "#BringBackOurGirls".

She is due to make the radio address ahead of Mother's Day, which is marked in the United States on Sunday.

"As the mother of two young daughters, Mrs Obama is taking up the opportunity to express outrage and heartbreak the president and she share over the kidnapping," White House Deputy spokesman Eric Schultz said.

"The first lady hopes that the courage of these young girls serves as an inspiration... and a call to action for people around the world to fight to ensure that every girl receives the education that is their birthright", he added

The news comes amid claims that Nigerian security forces had four hours’ warning about the kidnapping of schoolgirls but failed to act. Amnesty International claims multiple sources have told them local troops could have prevented the crime.

Netsanet Belay, the group’s Africa spokesman, said: “The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid but failed to take the action to stop it will amplify the national and international outcry at this horrific crime.”

Boko Haram: what can be done to save girls?

7 May

EIGHT more girls have been taken from a remote village in north-eastern Nigeria by suspected Boko Haram militants, just one day after the leader of the Islamist group announced he would sell 230 schoolgirls kidnapped three weeks ago into slavery.

Yesterday US Secretary of State John Kerry offered to help the Nigerian authorities track down the missing girls. "Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell that can provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations and to help facilitate information sharing and victim assistance,” he said.

But the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni says trying to negotiate with Boko Haram militants is pointless, as they are "ideologically bankrupt", the BBC reports. Instead they must be defeated, Museveni said.

But the Nigerian military is also “woefully ill-equipped” to take on Boko Haram, The Independent says. The group is “well-funded with sophisticated weaponry” and will not be broken down easily.

Another problem is the Nigerian government's slow response to the crisis. “Time has not been on the girls’ side”, The Independent says. In the weeks since they were kidnapped, the girls are thought to have been separated into smaller groups and moved around the country and across the border, making them almost impossible to track.

So should the West intervene? Lindsey German, writing in The Guardian warns that western interference may actually do more harm than good: “Western intervention has time and again failed to deal with particular problems and – worse – has led to more deaths, displacements and atrocities than were originally faced”, she says.

According to German, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Mali have all recently seen interventions that have arguably left the countries worse off than they were before western weapons and armies arrived.

Washington insists that at this stage it is not interested in fighting Boko Haram. “We are not considering at this point military resources,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Rather the military personnel sent to Nigeria will take an “advisory role” for the Nigerian government.

Boko Haram leader promises to 'sell' Nigerian schoolgirls

6 May

THE militant Islamist group Boko Haram announced it intends to sell hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria last month.

The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, said in a video obtained by the AFP news agency that the girls should never have been in school at all and that they will be sold into marriage.

"I abducted your girls," Shekau said on Monday in the 57-minute video. "By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace".

The video starts and ends with fighters shooting automatic rifles in the air chanting "Allahu akbar" or "God is great".

"I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine," Shekau said in another part of the video.

270 girls between the ages of nine and 18 were taken from their school in Chibok, in the northern state of Borno, three weeks ago.

At the time it was widely reported that the attack had been carried out by members of the Islamist group whose name – Boko Haram – means “western education is forbidden”. But it is only now that the group has officially claimed responsibility.

It is unclear whether the video was recorded before or after reports that some of the girls have been forced to marry their captors, who, the BBC says, paid a “nominal bride price” of $12 (£7) for each marriage.

According to The Times, weeks of governmental inaction have caused outrage among the girls’ relatives and fellow villagers. Broad public anger was exacerbated further when it emerged that the country’s first lady, Patience Jonathan, had said in a meeting with the victims’ families that she suspected the kidnappings had been fabricated to make her husband’s government look bad.

Saratu Angus Ndirpaya, who has led protests, said Jonathan accused protesters of belonging to Boko Haram.Ndirpaya and another protester Naomi Mutah Nyadar were detained after the meeting with the president's wife. The first lady’s accusation and the protesters’ subsequent arrest came as a “bizarre twist” to the unfolding tragedy, The Guardian said.

One woman who travelled from Chibok to protest said: "We don't know why the government is treating us like we are less than animals. It is just really painful".

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