23 December 2012

Nigeria: Suicide Bombers Attack Phone Firms in Kano

Kano — Two suicide car bombers attacked the facilities of two mobile phone operators in Kano yesterday, killing themselves and maiming at least one person.

The bombers targeted Airtel and MTN telecommunication facilities in separate attacks, destroying Airtel's switch station and causing disruption of its service in Kano and neighbouring states.

The attack on the Airtel office, located opposite Malam Kato Square military cenotaph and overlooking Central Bank office in the state, occurred around 8:45am.

A suicide bomber rammed into the complex with explosives-laden vehicle before detonating himself, security officials and a survivor told Sunday Trust.

Spokesperson of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Kano Captain Ikedichi Iweha said: "A suicide bomber rammed into the gate, hit a generator operator by the gate and rammed into the building before he detonated himself.

"The suicide bomber died. The generator operator was injured and is recuperating at the hospital. The Airtel office is damaged. I am sure if you have Airtel line you will not be able to receive call," he added.

Captain Iweha also gave account of how MTN facility was targeted. "A suicide bomber was on the road attempting to go to the office, but troops spotted the vehicle on the road," he said. "They engaged it, resulting in the suicide bomber detonating the explosives before entering the building.

"The suicide bomber died in the attack. A vehicle parked by the roadside, with nobody inside, was also damaged."

Captain Iweha described the two attacks as attempt by "terrorists" to "unsettle" the state ahead of the forthcoming Christmas.

But he assured residents that security had been strengthened to guarantee a hitch-free Christmas celebration.

Following the twin blasts, security was further stepped up at other telecommunication facilities in the city to forestall more attacks.

The first blast was said to have set the Airtel building and other vehicles parked in the premises on fire, while gunshots, apparently from security men trying to wade off another attack, were heard. Residents said their houses were shaken by the explosion.

A staff of the Airtel, Bayo Osho, sustained fracture on his leg after he was hit by the suicide bomber's vehicle.

Mr Osho, who spoke to Sunday Trust minutes after he was rushed to the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Muhammadu Abdullahi Wase Specialist Hospital in Kano, said he had been in the Airtel's security office shortly before the explosion.

"After watching TV, I came out and stood by the gate; that was when a vehicle rammed at the gate on high speed, crushed my leg and entered the premises," he said.

Another vehicle also stormed the building immediately, he said, adding "its driver came out and engaged soldiers in a shootout before the explosion went off".

The targeted telecom office is surrounded by banks and many prominent buildings, including CBN and the famous Gidan Goldie.

While Joint Task Force personnel quickly took over the area and stopped vehicles and pedestrians from getting closer to the scene, men of the state fire service battled to put out the flames which destroyed the facility.

The assailant had broken into the gate close to a security post mounted by soldiers. Troops were deployed to provide security at mobile installations in the state following attacks on telecommunication masts by members of the Boko Haram sect in September.

An engineer working with Airtel told our correspondent that the damaged facility was used to service Airtel subscribers in about seven states in the North, including Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi.

Airtel users who spoke to our correspondent in Kano said the service was completely down.

The Airtel staff, who wants to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the press, further said that services in the remaining states have also been affected because of the Kano attack.

He said an effort was under way by the company's engineers in Bauchi to remove Jigawa State, which was also down, and place it on Bauchi switch, with a view to restoring service there.

Less than one hour after the first blast, another explosion went off at an MTN switch station opposite Northern Flour Mills along Maimalari Road in Bompai industrial area, about 500 metres from the state police command.

Sunday Trust gathered from MTN staff that a suicide bomber had attempted to breach the facility's gate, but failed to break in due to its strength.

As a result he detonated the explosives outside, causing damages to windscreens of vehicles parked in the compound as well as shattering glasses of the facility and those of nearby buildings.

It was also learnt that some staff of other companies located in the area had sustained injuries from shattered glasses as a result of the blast.

Similarly, residents of Bompai area said the force of the explosion caused disruption of power supply in the area.

The switch station is the one servicing MTN subscribers in 11 states across the Northwest and Northeast geopolitical regions, it was gathered.

Meanwhile, the attack had crippled business activities in parts of Kano city, especially in areas located close to the two scenes of the attack, as security agents had cordoned off roads leading to those places.

Traders who have shops around Malam Kato were not allowed to open for businesses, just as a nearby motor park for passengers travelling to Kaduna and other northern states was shut down.

At Bompai, company workers could not report for work as security forces had taken over the area, while those who reported earlier, locked down and left.

The incident also created heavy traffic build ups in many areas across the state because of vehicular diversion from busy roads that were blocked by security operatives.

Several telecommunication masts were bombed in Kano and other parts of the North three months ago by Boko Haram members, who had threatened to target such facilities after accusing them of assisting security agencies with calls information to help track their members.

Masts, stations belonging to Airtel and MTN were attack in September by the group in areas like Sharada, JAEN and Hotoro, among others.

Meanwhile, Captain Iweha has urged members of the public to report any suspicious behaviour in their midst to the Joint Task Force, especially during the Christmas festivity.

"People should not be afraid of movement, they should go about their lawful businesses," he said.

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