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Blast at bus station kills 71

A massive explosion ripped through a bus station during the morning rush hour in Nigeria's capital, killing at least 71 people and wounding 124 in a bombing that marked the bloodiest terrorist attack ever in Abuja.

President Goodluck Jonathan visited the scene and blamed Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group which operates in the northeast of Nigeria and which has been threatening to attack Nigeria's capital. One official said he believed the bomb buried in the earth while the emergency management agency said the explosives were apparently hidden in a vehicle.

The blast destroyed 16 luxury buses and 24 minibuses and cars, said police spokesman Frank Mba, who gave the death toll.

Survivors screamed in anguish and the stench of burning fuel and flesh hung over the site where billows of black smoke rose as firefighters worked to put out the fires. Reporters saw rescue workers and police gathering body parts as ambulances rushed the wounded to the hospitals. State television has broadcast calls for blood donations.

Security personnel battled to belatedly cordon off the area as a bomb detonation team was combing it for secondary explosives, a common occurrence here. Thousands of bystanders gathered, ignoring warnings to stay away. While violence has torn the northeast where Boko Haram has killed thousands, the capital in the middle of Africa's most populous country has been relatively peaceful.

Two notable exceptions occurred when Boko Haram members rammed two explosives-laden cars into the lobby of the United Nations office building in 2011, killing at least 21 people and wounded 60 and when militants from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta in October 2010 exploded two car bombs at Independence Day celebration, leaving at least 12 people dead and 17 injured. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta which carried out that attack has been largely dormant since then, except for some sabotage of oil pipelines.

There was no immediate claim for Monday's bombing though bus stations are a favoured Boko Haram target. In March 2013, the extremists drove a car bomb into the main bus station in Kano, Nigeria's second biggest city, killing at least 25 people.

Boko Haram's campaign to make Nigeria an Islamic state with Sharia, or Islamic law, enforced throughout the country poses the greatest threat to its cohesion and security and threatens nearby countries where the fighters have gone to train and fight.

"The issue of Boko Haram is quite an ugly history within this period of our own development," said Jonathan. "Government is doing everything to make sure that we move our country forward ... But the issue of Boko Haram is temporary. Surely, we will get over it."

In May 2013, Jonathan declared a state of emergency and deployed thousands of troops to curb the violence in northeast Nigeria after the extremists took control of entire towns and villages. Security forces quickly forced the Islamic insurgents out of urban areas but have been battling to dislodge them from hideouts, despite near-daily air bombardments and ground assaults this year on forests and mountain caves along the border with Cameroon.

The military has claimed it has the upper hand in the war, but the extremists have fought back with more frequent and ever-deadlier attacks.

The Canadian Press

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