LAGOS, Nigeria: Five female suicide bombers exploded at a market in the Chibok hometown of Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls on Wednesday, killing 13 civilians and wounding 32 people, witnesses said.
Soldiers were searching the northeastern town late Wednesday for two other women seen with the bombers and also suspected to be strapped with explosives, according to teacher Emmanuel Cosmos.
Three soldiers including their commanding officer are among the injured being treated at the hospital, according to a man who was at the scene and insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals.
He said the blasts with shrapnel zapping through the air began when soldiers stopped a young women covered in a hijab for a routine search at the entrance to the open-air, roadside vegetable market in the northeast Nigerian town. She blew herself up. Then three women already inside the market exploded in quick succession.
A Chibok community leader in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, said another blast occurred at a military checkpoint at the entrance to Chibok. Tsambo Hosea Abana said relatives called to tell him that his niece and uncle are among the wounded.
Residents blamed Boko Haram, the Islamic extremist group that kidnapped nearly 300 Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014. Dozens escaped but 219 remain missing. Chibok is a Christian enclave in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.
The plight of the girls brought Boko Haram international attention. The failure to rescue the schoolgirls contributed to the election defeat last year of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The militants have said some of the girls have converted to Islam and threatened to sell them into slavery. It also said some have been married to its fighters.
There has been no further news of the girls, though there are reports some were carried across Nigeria’s borders.
President Muhammadu Buhari has said he is willing to negotiate their release in exchange for detained militants but that his government has been unable to identify a credible leader for such talks.
Boko Haram’s increasing use of girls and young women as suicide bombers has raised fears the militants are using captives as weapons.
Associated Press writers Lekan Oyekanmi in Lagos and Haruna Umar in Abuja contributed to this report.