Kaduna — At least 85 people were killed yesterday in two separate bombings in Kaduna targeting former head of state Muhammadu Buhari near a busy motor park and Muslim cleric Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, who was in a long motorcade.
Both retired General Buhari and Sheikh Dahiru survived unhurt, but their aides were among the many people injured in the attacks.
The first explosion, apparently targeting Sheikh Dahiru, happened at about 12.42pm on Alkali Road in Unguwar Sarki while the scholar was on his way home from the last session of this year's Ramadan lecture which had thousands of people in attendance.
Witnesses said a man detonated an explosives vest close to Sheikh Dahiru's car, killing at least 35 people including some of his aides. Many other people were injured, among them members of an Islamic aid group.
The bloodied scene was littered with corpses and the injured, our correspondent reported.
A witness, Abubakar Hussaini, said the attacker waited for Sheikh Dahiru's car, which was surrounded by followers and aides, before detonating the suicide vest.
"The attacker was a young man who could possibly be between the ages of 20 and 30. He was wearing three-quarter length pair of trousers and stood by the road near some parked cars with his arms firmly on his chest," Hussaini said.
"No one suspected that he was carrying any explosives but when the Sheikh's vehicle approached his position, he struggled to go close to it which he was unable to do due the presence of aides and bodyguards around the Sheikh.
"The boy was pushed away by of the aides before he ignited his suicide vest. The Sheikh did not sustain any injury but his car was damaged and some of his aides were killed. About 35 people were said to have been killed in the attack."
Kaduna State Police Commissioner Umar Shehu put the death toll at 25 with 14 other people injured, saying the attacker detonated the devise few meters away from Sheikh Dahiru's car.
He said no one was arrested in connection with the incident.
Three vehicles were damaged by the explosion, including an Opel Vectra with registration number Kano KMC 929 AJ, a Ford bus with registration number Niger XA 339 KJA and another Opel with registration number Lagos HJ 375 AAA.
This was the second apparent attempt on the life of Sheikh Dahiru, who had survived a blast near his residence at Askolaiye in Kaduna about three weeks ago.
While the rescue operations were going on at the scene of the Alkali Road attack, another blast happened at about 2.30pm near the Kawo motor park targeting General Buhari. A Toyota Sienna bus overtook the escort vehicle behind Buhari's jeep and exploded, killing over 50 people, according to witnesses and a Red Cross official.
Buhari was not hurt, but three of his security guards were injured, his spokesman Yau Darazo told Daily Trust by telephone.
Later yesterday, Buhari issued a statement which he personally signed, giving an account of the incident.
"I was personally involved in a clearly targeted bomb attack along Ali-Akilu Road, Kawo-Kaduna at about 2.30pm on my way to Daura," he said in the statement.
"The unfortunate event, clearly assassination attempt, came from a fast moving vehicle that made many attempts to overtake my security car but was blocked by my escort vehicle.
"We reached the market area of Kawo where he took advantage of our slowing down and attempted to ram my car and instantly detonated the bomb which destroyed all the three cars in our convoy.
"Unfortunately, when I came out of my vehicle I saw many dead bodies littered around. They were innocent people going about their daily business who became victims of mass murder."
Buhari aborted his trip to Daura and returned home in Kaduna, while his three injured guards were treated and discharged from hospital, Darazo told Daily Trust.
A Daily Trust reporter who visited the scene of the incident said the blast left a deep crater on the road, just meters away from the busy Kawo motor park.
Buhari's bullet-proof Toyota Land Cruiser V8 jeep with registration number Kano NSR 27 FC was seen damaged.
An official of the Red Cross said the dead in the Kawo incident were up to 50, while a witness put the death toll at over 60. The State Commissioner of Police, who rushed to Kawo from Unguwar Sarki, said: "We were there at Alkali Road trying to clear the area where the previous blast occurred when we heard of another blast in Kawo near the flyover.
"When we arrived we discovered that a suicide bus with three occupants and the driver exploded near the vehicle of a prominent elder statesman but the man survived the incidence. The bus was parked near the road waiting for their target. 14 people died, 5 were injured and no one was arrested."
A witness, Tasiu Uba, said "the suicide vehicle appeared to be following the convoy and when the convoy approached the Kawo flyover bridge there was a slight traffic congestion which made the vehicles to slow down. At that point the attackers attempted to swerve toward the General's car but there were two motorcycles in front which apparently prevented them from going close to the car.
"All of a sudden the bus exploded and it was tossed away from the convoy toward the roadside. About 40 corpses were removed from the scene and the General did not sustain injury. He walked to the other lane and his aides stopped one Volkswagen Golf car which drove him home."