The Nigerian military said Sunday its troops have arrested suspects believed to have detonated two massive car bombs that killed more than 50 in Maiduguri, Borno State, on Saturday.
Military authorities did not specify the number of those detained, although reports say about two dozen men were rounded up by security forces after the attack on Saturday.
Those arrested are helping with ongoing investigation, the military said in a statement Sunday.
“Patrols are continuing on land and air in the entire mission area in North East towards apprehending or eliminating the rampaging terrorists in the area,” defence spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, said in a statement.
Attackers, suspected to be members of the extremist Boko Haram, detonated two bomb-laden cars in Bintu-Suga, a crowded neighbourhood of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, on Saturday. The first bomb, hidden in a pick-up truck loaded with firewood, exploded near the venue of a marriage reception and a public viewing centre where football fans were watching a match.
The second bomb, which was wired in a Volkswagen Gulf car, blasted as people attempted to rescue victims of the first attack.
Witnesses say the driver of the first car was killed in the attack, while the second driver was lynched as he attempted to flee on a snatched tricycle.
A spokesperson for Bintu-Suga community, Bukar Modu, said the explosions killed 46 persons on the spot, while six others died later in the hospital.
An “unspecified numbers of corpses were still under the rubbles of the destroyed buildings”, he added. The Red Cross said many of the victims were children.
The attacks followed a string a deadly onslaughts by Boko Haram on civilian populations in Borno and Yobe States in the past weeks.
The group has targeted schools and several villages, swooping on them at night as people sleep. The residents are often rounded up and mowed down by the rampaging terrorists who also set their homes alight.
Hours after the Maiduguri blast on Saturday, armed men attacked Mainok, a community about 60 kilometers from the capital, killing at least 39 persons.
An officer at the Department Security Service, who asked not to be quoted as he was not authorized to speak, said the attack on Mainok also left the farming community completely razed down.
Mansur Buba, a commercial cab driver in Mainok, who said he helped in burying the dead, said the gunmen arrived the town less than an hour after he had left for Maiduguri.
“The gunmen rounded up the village and began to shoot, setting fire on buildings. Many people were injured as well; some are fleeing as I am talking to you now. I had to quickly leave Mainok for Maiduguri because there is fear everywhere”, said Mr. Buba.
The Nigerian government and its military have faced stinging criticisms for their failure to foil the attacks and defeat a blood-thirsty group that makes no distinction between defenseless civilians and what it claims to be its set out targets.
The military said late Sunday it has scaled up aerial and ground operations in the affected areas, and that its missions to crush identified terrorists hideouts, were successful.
“The air operations to clear terrorists bases sited in Daggu and Yazza areas of Borno State during the weekend have registered the expected results in the ongoing campaign against terror,” the statement by the defence headquarters, said.
“The mopping up operation by ground forces after air assault has confirmed the death of several terrorists located in the bases,” Mr. Olukolade, who signed the statement, said. “Civilians had earlier been evacuated from the vicinity of the identified terrorist enclaves in line with operation orders before the air and land assaults. Extensive cordon and search of the entire locality is ongoing with a view to apprehending the wounded and other members of the terrorists group who might still be trying to flee.”
The claims could not be independently verified.
The force said also on Saturday, troops in pursuit of those who attacked a federal secondary school in Yobe State in Buni Yadi last week, had fierce encounter with the terrorists around Mainok and other locations between Apa and Abulum in Borno State.
“The air and land operations that ensued recorded the death of some terrorists. Soldiers also died in the encounters,” the statement said.