118 dead in twin car bombs at bus station, market in Nigerian city; toll expected to rise

The Associated Press

Smoke rises after a bomb blast at a bus terminal in Jos, Nigeria, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Two explosions ripped through a bustling bus terminal and market frequented by thousands of people in Nigeria's central city of Jos on Tuesday afternoon, and police said there are an unknown number of casualties. The blasts could be heard miles away and clouds of black smoke rose above the city as firefighters and rescue workers struggled to reach the area as thousands of people fled. (AP Photo/Stefanos Foundation)

Associated Press + More

By AHMED SAKA and MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press

JOS, Nigeria (AP) — Two car bombs exploded at a bustling bus terminal and market in Nigeria's central city of Jos on Tuesday, killing at least 118 people, wounding dozens and leaving bloodied bodies amid the flaming debris.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the twin car bombs. But they bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist group that abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls last month and has repeatedly targeted bus stations and other locations where large numbers of people gather in its campaign to impose Islamic law on Nigeria.

The second blast came half an hour after the first, killing some of the rescue workers who had rushed to the scene, which was obscured by billows of black smoke.

"It's horrifying, terrible," said Mark Lipdo of the Stefanos Foundation, a Christian charity based in Jos, who described the sickening smell of burning human flesh.

A woman's body, her legs blown off, lay on the edge of an inferno consuming other bodies. In the middle if the flames, an arm reached up. Another woman, unconscious and wrapped in a brightly colored cloth, was being carried away in a wheelbarrow on a road strewn with glass shards.

Dozens of bodies and body parts were covered in grain that had been loaded in the second car bomb, witnesses said. A Terminus Market official said he helped remove 50 casualties, most of them dead. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to give information to reporters.

At least 118 people were killed and dozens wounded in the bombings, which ignited fires that were still burning eight hours later, according to Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency.

"Firemen are still trying to put them out. We believe we will find more bodies," Mohammed Abdulsalam, zonal coordinator for the agency, told The Associated Press. He said the fires were being fueled by flammable goods at the market, including rubber sandals.

Tensions have been rising between Christians and Muslims in Jos, the capital of Plateau state in Nigeria's Middle Belt region that divides the country into the predominantly Muslim north and Christian south. It is a flashpoint for religious violence, and there were fears the attacks could ignite a new round of sectarian violence.

President Goodluck Jonathan indicated he blamed Boko Haram for Tuesday's bombings, extending sympathies to affected families in a statement and assuring "all Nigerians that the government remains fully committed to winning the war against terror."

"This administration will not be cowed by the atrocities of enemies of human progress and civilization," the statement said.

Boko Haram has claimed other recent attacks, including two separate bomb blasts in April that killed more than 120 people and wounded more than 200 in Abuja, the nation's capital. One went off at Abuja's busy bus station and the other nearby.

A suicide car bomber killed 25 people on Monday in northern Kano city, where police found and disabled a second car bomb before it went off. Authorities said the death toll would have been far higher, but the first bomb exploded before it reached its target of restaurants and bars in the Christian quarter of the Muslim city.

Lipdo said at least one of Tuesday's blasts could have been averted if authorities had acted in time. He said a white van that held the first bomb was parked for hours in the market place, raising suspicions of vendors and others who reported it to the authorities, but nothing was done.

He said authorities also had another warning of impending violence: A man with explosives strapped to his body was arrested on Saturday and told police that many militants had been ordered to plant bombs around churches and public areas in Jos.