A female suicide bomber and Boko Haram gunmen killed 16 people in Nigeria as the commander of a new multinational force tasked with fighting the Islamists pledged on Friday to crush the insurgency “very soon”.
Major General Iliya Abbah’s appointment in an Abuja ceremony as chief of the 8,700-strong force came as a woman bomber on a tricycle killed six people in a busy market in Maiduguri, the largest city in Nigeria’s restive northeastern Borno state.
The jihadists also struck neighbouring Yobe state, killing at least 10 people including two women on Wednesday evening in a revenge attack against local vigilantes, a local official told AFP on Friday.
The suicide attack was the latest in a wave of Boko Haram bombings — often by female bombers — targeting markets in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon that have killed and wounded scores in the past month.
Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of civilians, including women and children, with many either forced or indoctrinating into joining the extremists, official say.
“The attack (on the Gamboru) market happened around 6:30 am (0530 GMT) as the grocers were arriving,” Babakura Kolo, a vigilante in Maiduguri, told AFP.
“From accounts we gathered from people around, the woman arrived on a taxi tricycle, as every woman grocer does. She blew herself up as soon as the tricycle stopped in the midst of other tricycles dropping traders off,” Kolo said.
Another local resident was at home when he heard the blast, and he rushed to the scene immediately afterwards.
“The place was littered with victims and burning rickshaws,” he told AFP.
Gamboru market is the second largest in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and birthplace of Boko Haram, which has killed at least 15,000 people since its bloody insurgency began in 2009.
The extremist group, whose name roughly translates as “Western education is forbidden”, has carried on its campaign of attacks on security forces, suicide bombings and bloody raids on villages across Nigeria’s north and eastern borders despite a major regional military campaign against them.
– Lake Chad offensive –
The new multinational force, whose troops Abbah said would be deployed “any time from today”, is expected to be more efficient than the regional offensive launched in February.
The force will contain troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, with Benin also committed to help.
“I assure (you), by the will of God, that I will live (up) to expectations and we will see the end of this menace very soon,” Abbah said in Abuja.
However Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has recently complained of a lack of resources, raising concerns over the force’s chances of defeating Boko Haram once and for all.
The Chadian army has gone ahead and waged a vast offensive of its own in the past fortnight, targeting Islamists holed up around Lake Chad and claiming to have killed “117 terrorists”.
Two soldiers have died and two were injured, a military spokesman said.
Alayi Wari, who fled his home in Fitinewa on Lake Chad for Nigeria, told AFP Boko Haram had stormed 10 villages in the past month, and that the army has since recaptured seven.
But Bullu Dagi, who has fled his home in Midi, said the villages were still “virtually deserted”.
“Although most of the these villages have been reclaimed, residents are still afraid to return,” Dagi said.
Boko Haram has used the Lake Chad region as a hideout to fall back from offensives by Nigerian and Chadian troops inside Nigeria. The lake lies where the borders of Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria converge.
The region has seen a surge in violence since Buhari took office in May vowing to crush Boko Haram’s campaign for an Islamic caliphate.
The latest attacks follow a visit this week by Buhari to Cameroon to discuss a stronger regional alliance in the wake of an unprecedented wave of five suicide bombings there.
Two of those attacks killed at least 33 people in the northern market town of Maroua, where a police officer on Friday confirmed a report that they had arrested three youths on Thursday, one allegedly carrying a plastic bag full of explosives.