MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber attacked a military checkpoint in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Damaturu on Sunday, killing six soldiers and two civilians, police said.
Suspicion is likely to fall on Islamist sect Boko Haram, which is waging a bloody insurgency against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government across the north.
The sect is seeking to carve out an Islamic state in Africa’s top energy producer and most populous country, which is split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.
“The lone suicide bomber detonated the bomb before the car he was in could be stopped, killing the six soldiers and one civilian,” Patrick Egbuniwe, the police commissioner for Yobe State, told Reuters by telephone.
“Another civilian died of his wounds in hospital shortly after,” he added, saying that nine soldiers were in hospital receiving treatment for their wounds.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Damaturu’s Shagari housing estate.
Labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, Boko Haram has been behind almost daily shootings and bombings in the volatile northeast.
Witness Abdullahi Sabo said the whole neighborhood shook when the Damaturu bomb exploded.
“The car blew up outside the front of my shop, the explosion was deadly,” he said. “After the dust settled, many security operatives were rushed to the hospital.”
In a separate incident, police said suspected sect members had shot dead a former commissioner for the environment in neighboring Borno state, the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency, in the early hours of Saturday.
The sect has not been as active as it was at the start of the year, when it was often inflicting heavy casualties on the security forces and civilians, but has still been carrying out attacks.
President Jonathan has been criticized for failing to get to grips with the insurgency, though his supporters say a military crackdown in the north has weakened the sect dramatically.
Last Sunday, suspected members of Boko Haram killed five people in a series of gun battles in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city. Four sect fighters were also killed. The following day, gunmen attacked Vice President Namadi Sambo’s house in his home state, though he was not in the building.
Boko Haram has shown an increasing appetite for bombing churches this year in what looks like an attempt to foment sectarian strife.
The government says it is open to dialogue with the sect’s members, although an attempt to initiate contact with the main faction leader Abubakar Shekau earlier this year went nowhere.
Reporting by Ibrahim Mshelizza; Additional Reporting by Mike Oboh in Abuja; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Osborn