By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
JOHANNESBURG — A suicide bomber driving a three-wheeler taxi detonated a blast at an open-air World Cup viewing venue in northern Nigeria on Tuesday night, killing 14 people, according to police.
Police Assistant Superintendent Nathan Cheghan told the Associated Presst that 26 others were wounded in the attack in the town of Damaturu. There were fears the number of dead could rise, with many seriously injured victims reported.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing in the Yobe state capital as people watched Brazil play Mexico, but suspicions fell on the Islamist militia Boko Haram or a similar Islamist splinter group.
The police commissioner for Yobe state, Sanusi Ruf’ai, said the attack happened at about 8:15 p.m. local time, shortly after the soccer match began.
The bomb blast follows several similar attacks in northern Nigeria in recent months. Just over two weeks ago, 14 people were killed in a bomb attack on a bar in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state, where people were watching soccer. In May, three people were killed at a soccer viewing venue in Jos, the capital of Plateau state. In April, two people died when gunmen opened fire on a soccer-viewing venue in Yobe state.
In soccer-mad Nigeria, young men often crowd into bars, video halls and mass open-air soccer-screening venues to watch games live on large screens. For many who lack cable TV at home, it is the only way to see World Cup games and other major soccer matches live.
But Nigerian authorities have warned that venues screening soccer matches could be targeted by extremists who see the game as un-Islamic.
Authorities in Adamawa and Plateau states and the Federal Capital Territory recently banned screenings of World Cup matches in public venues because of the risk of attacks. Police in other areas have warned owners of such venues to take extra security precautions.
Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states have been under a state of emergency for more than a year as the Nigerian government grapples with an insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years, shut down schools and caused thousands of farmers to desert their land and villagers to evacuate their homes.
Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 girls from Chibok village in April, and the ensuing campaign for their release, under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, focused global attention on the militant group.
Boko Haram’s attacks have increasingly targeted civilians. In an attack on a boarding school in Yobe state in February, dozens of school boys were shot in their beds, burned alive or had their throats cut. Hundreds of schoolteachers have been killed in northern Nigeria since last year. Markets and bus stations have been hit as well.
The group, fighting for an Islamic state across Nigeria, opposes Western education and culture, which it sees as the products of corrupt infidels. The insurgency has deepened divisions between the mainly Muslim north and mainly Christian south in Africa’s most populous nation, which has about 170 million people.
Soccer-viewing venues make easy targets for terror groups in Africa. During the World Cup in 2010, more than 70 people died in an attack by the Somali terror group al-Shabab in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. The U.S. Embassy in Kampala recently issued a warning to avoid crowded soccer-viewing venues in Uganda because of the risk of attack.
In an attack by gunmen Sunday in the Kenyan town of Mpeketoni, people watching a World Cup match at a local venue were among the victims. About 60 people died in attacks Sunday and Monday on Mpeketoni and nearby villages, not far from the tourist area of Lamu on the northeastern Kenyan coast.
Both Kenya and Somalia have faced attacks by Al Shabab because of their military presence in Somalia, although Kenyan authorities blamed local political networks for the attacks earlier this week.
AFP Photo/Samir Bol