A GIRL thought to be as young as seven killed herself and seven others in a suicide bombing in northeast Nigeria as President Goodluck Jonathan conceded his government had initially underrated the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.
The attack on a market in the city of Potiskum, the commercial capital of Yobe state, was the latest in a string of suicide strikes in which children, mainly young girls, have been used.
It comes seven months after Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai visited Nigeria to express solidarity with more than 200 girls abducted by the Islamists.
Those girls remain missing, nearly a year since they were seized. Malala celebrated her 17th birthday with some of the girls who escaped the mass abduction in Chibok, a village in the militants’ heartland of Borno state.
The initial death toll given by witnesses and hospital sources was six—the bomber and five others—but medical sources at the state-run hospital in Potiskum said later two of those injured had also died.
Previous attacks have been blamed on Boko Haram.
Nineteen people injured in the blast were taken to the hospital, a local vigilante leader, Buba Lawan, told news agency AFP.
The bombing highlights the severe security challenges facing Nigeria in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary elections on March 28.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been in office since 2011, is engaged in a tough re-election campaign against ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
Voting initially scheduled for February 14 has been delayed for six weeks to give Nigeria’s military time to secure the country, despite its failure to beat back Boko Haram in the previous six years.
Jonathan admitted in an interview published on Sunday that early on in their rise he had underestimated the Islamists, who have overrun swathes of the northeast. (Read: I got Boko Haram wrong)
“Probably at the beginning, we, and I mean myself and the team, we underrated the capacity of Boko Haram,” Jonathan told newspaper ThisDay.
He said the military had recently acquired more arms and ammunition to battle the Islamists, and vowed their defeat was imminent.
Tried to prevent girl
Sunday’s bombing in Potiskum was the second suicide attack in or near the market where new and second-hand phones are sold and repaired.
The first attack occurred January 11, when two female suicide bombers—one of whom appeared to be aged around 15—blew themselves up outside the market killing six people and injuring 37 others.
Before Sunday’s strike, suspicious security guards and vigilantes said they tried to prevent the girl—who witnesses said appeared around seven—from entering the market.
“We sent her back four times, because given her age, she did not have anything to do in the market,” Lawan said.
“When we were screening people, she bent and tried to pass under the ropes, some distance from our view. That was when the explosives went off.”
Sign of distrust
In a sign of the distrust generated by the suicide bombings, Lawan said “we have barred women from entering the market to prevent further attacks.”
Over 13,000 have been killed while more than one million people have been left homeless since 2009 as the Boko Haram militants try to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria’s northeast.
Nigeria’s military said Sunday that the offensive against Boko Haram was making progress, claiming soldiers had recovered stocks of weapons abandoned by insurgents fleeing the recaptured town of Baga.
Nigerian military claims to have re-taken Baga from Boko Haram came more than a month after it was overrun in what is feared to be the worst massacre in the six-year insurgency.
There was no independent corroboration that Baga had returned to army control. (Reporting from AFP)