Bomb kills three in Nigerian Islamist stronghold

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria Wed Feb 20, 2013 4:05pm EST

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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Three people were killed on Wednesday when a bomb exploded in Nigeria's northeastern town of Maiduguri, the army said, the latest attack in the stronghold of Islamist sect Boko Haram.

Boko Haram killed hundreds of people last year in an attempt to carve out an Islamic state in a country of 160 million split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims. Its main target is the security forces.

"An improvised explosive device targeted at a Joint Task Force patrol team exploded at Post Office roundabout about 1:00 p.m.," Sagir Musa, spokesman for the military force, said in a statement.

"The explosion led to the death of three civilians, including the bomber and wounded two others."

Boko Haram is the biggest security threat to Africa's top oil producer and Western governments are concerned about Islamists groups in Nigeria linking up with extremists elsewhere, including al Qaeda's north African wing.

A French family were kidnapped just over the border in northern Cameroon on Tuesday and were driven into Nigeria by their abductors, Cameroon officials have said.

French President Francois Hollande said Boko Haram was behind the abduction of the three adults and four children. No group has taken responsibility.

An al Qaeda linked group called Ansaru, thought to have ties with Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the kidnap of another seven foreigners in a separate incident in northern Nigeria's Bauchi state on Sunday.

The abductions highlight the risk to French nationals and their foreign allies since Paris sent forces to Mali to oust Islamist rebels last month.

(Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; additional reporting by Isaac Abrak in Kaduna; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Alison Williams)

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