26 Aug 2011

Bomb hits UN building in Nigerian capital

The Nigerian president condemns a bomb attack on the UN office in Abuja which has killed at least 18 people.

Soldiers, firefighters and rescue workers are all at the scene of the United Nations (UN) office in Abuja, Nigeria, where a car bomb exploded earlier, causing major damage.

At least 18 people have died in the attack. Witnesses said they had seen a number of bodies carried from the site and the building itself was black from top to bottom.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said the bomb attack was a “despicable assault” on the UN goal of global peace and security.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the casualty toll was likely to be “considerable” after the attack, but he had no exact figures.

This was an assault on those who devote their lives to helping others. Ban Ki-moon

Mr Ban said he was sending his deputy, Asha-Rose Migiro, to Nigeria immediately, accompanied by security chief Gregory Starr.

He added: “This was an assault on those who devote their lives to helping others. We condemn this terrible act utterly.”

Close to 400 people normally work in the office complex for 26 UN humanitarian and development agencies.

“Different people have been taken to different hospitals so we’re not sure of casualty figures. It is at least 18,” said Mike Zuokumor, Abuja police commissioner.

No once claimed responsibility for the attack. However, one Abuja-based security source suspected the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, whose strikes have been growing in intensity and spreading further afield, or al-Qaeda‘s North African arm.

Shock at ‘brutal’ act

Ocilage Michael, a member of UN staff working at the building, said he had seen casualties.

“We just saw the blast coming from the building. All the people in the basement were all killed. Their bodies are littered all over the place,” he said.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, said: “I was shocked to hear of today’s bomb attack at the UN compound in Abuja. This brutal act has killed and injured many innocent people and I utterly condemn those who have carried it out. My thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of those affected.

“Around the world the UN works for peace, security and international co-operation and an attack on the UN is an attack on these principles.”

Nigeria security situation

Northern Nigeria has been hit by a wave of bombings and killings by Islamist extremists in recent months, although attacks in the oil-producing south have subsided.

Boko Haram, which translates as “Western education is sinful” has been behind most of the almost daily bombings and shootings, mostly targeting police in the north east of Africa’s most populous nation.

The group claimed responsibility for a June bomb attack on the car park of the Abuja police headquarters which bore similarities to Friday’s blast at the UN building. The President has set up a committee to investigate the sect, and police and army officers have been making dozens of arrests and engaging group members in gunfights in the last two weeks.

The possibility that the attack was carried out by al-Qaeda has also not been ruled out.