Maiduguri, Nigeria – Boko Haram on Monday launched two separate attacks on state capitals in northeast Nigeria, when two female suicide bombers hit a busy market and fighters launched a major assault on police.
The blasts in Maiduguri and dawn raid in Damaturu came just days after a deadly mosque attack in the northern city of Kano left at least 120 people dead and hundreds more injured.
Almost daily attacks have heightened tensions in Nigeria’s far northeast and sparked fears of unrest beyond the country’s borders.
Both Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno state, and Damaturu, the main city in neighbouring Yobe, have been hit repeatedly by Boko Haram.
The site of the latest blasts in Maiduguri – the popular Monday Market – was hit just last Tuesday when two women detonated explosives hidden in their hijabs among the crowds of shoppers.
In that attack, more than 45 people were killed.
Two suspected female suicide bombers were arrested in the city on Wednesday and Thursday, while on Friday, a roadside bomb near another market was defused.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a similar raid in Damaturu on October 24, 2013, in which four police buildings were hit with guns and explosives and militants battled with security forces.
Both incidents will add to claims that Nigeria’s government has not done enough to protect civilians from the Islamists, whose insurgency has claimed over 13,000 lives since it began in 2009.
Nigeria’s main Muslim body, the JNI, on Sunday attacked the government for failing to prevent the deaths of ordinary people and called for civilians to protect themselves against attack.
In Maiduguri, witnesses said the first explosion happened as a middle-aged woman tried to enter the market and refused a security check of her bags.
A second woman then tried to get into a nearby shop but as she was denied access detonated her explosives.
Death tolls are notoriously difficult to corroborate in Nigeria and the authorities often downplay numbers.
Borno state police commissioner Clement Adoda said six people were killed, including the two bombers, but one witness said he counted at least 10 dead bodies at the scene.
A source at the Borno State Specialist Hospital said: “We received 16 dead bodies and 25 people with serious injuries.”
Borno, Yobe and neighbouring Adamawa were placed under a state of emergency in May 2013 but the special measures have failed to end the violence.
Boko Haram has seized control of more than two dozen towns in all three states and more than 1.5 million Nigerians have been forced to flee their homes, the United Nations said last week.
Nigeria goes to the polls to elect a new president in February next year but the main opposition has voiced concern that tens of thousands will be unable to vote because of the bloodshed.
The former head of Nigeria’s secret police, Mike Ejiofor, said Boko Haram had moved from being a national problem to a “global problem” and voiced fears about the upcoming vote.
“They (the militants) want to prove that they don’t recognise established government and want to disrupt whatever government that has been put in place,” he told GNR.
In Damaturu, residents in the Gujba Road area of the city were jolted out of bed by the sound of gunshots and explosions at about 4:45 am (0345 GMT) and many fled.
“The gunmen came in numbers. They have burnt down the police barracks…. We have left our home. We are now in the bush. We don’t know what’s going to happen,” said one local, Umar Sada.
The Yobe state police commissioner, Marcus Danladi, described the attack as a “serious situation”. Civilian vigilantes in the city claimed that more than 40 Boko Haram fighters were killed.
Others described the scene as “chaos” as shells fell in the federal polytechnic compound and fierce fighting raged near detention facilities where Boko Haram suspects were being held.
The office of the Yobe state governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, said in a statement early evening that the security forces had successfully repelled the attack.
Gaidam’s spokesman Abdullahi Bego said the governor condemned the assault as “heinous and barbaric”.
“He has also expressed appreciation to the security forces who worked very hard on the ground and from the air to repel the attack and force many of the attackers to flee,” he added.
“As a result of their effort, Damaturu remains firmly under government control.”