The United Nations office in Nigeria’s capital Abuja has been hit by a car bomb. A local medical worker said at least 18 people had died, the police said the death toll was 18 while the Red Cross said it had recorded 16 bodies, but that others had been removed before its workers arrived on the scene.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attacked “utterly” and said the casualty toll was likely to be “considerable”.
Security sources and witnesses said a car drove through one of the UN compound’s gates and rammed into the four-story office building before exploding in an attack similar to a June assault on the Abuja police headquarters claimed by Boko Haram, a Nigerian radical Islamist sect.
Ocilaje Michael, a member of the UN staff working at the Abuja building, said he had seen a number of dead bodies after the explosion. “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.”
Suspicion immediately fell on Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful”. On Thursday it attacked a police station and banks in a northeastern Nigerian town, killing 12 people. Another possibility is that the bombing was carried out by the North African arm of al Qaeda.
However there is no indication yet who attacked the UN building which houses about 400 employees of the organisation in Nigeria. “It’s hard to be sure who is responsible,” said Tom Cargill, assistant head of Africa programme at London’s Chatham House think-tank. “You have the Islamist insurgency — Boko Haram — who have been increasing in activity but this would be a major escalation. You also have al Qaeda-linked elements who have been trying to move in and who Western diplomats have been increasingly worried about.”