Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari visited the northern city of Yola on Saturday, awarding medals to three soldiers who were wounded in military operations against Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has killed thousands of people in the country. Government forces, Buhari said, were winning.
“With what I have seen today, I believe that the Boko Haram are very close to defeat, and I urge you to quickly clear the remnants of these criminals from wherever they may still be hiding,” he said.
Just days later, a suicide attacker detonated a bomb in a crowded fruit and vegetable market in Yola, killing 32 people and injuring 80 others. The explosion, heard across the city, according to witnesses, occurred at about 7:52 p.m. local time Tuesday, the National Emergency Management Agency in Nigeria said on its website.
On Wednesday afternoon, two female suicide bombers killed 11 people in a market in the northern city of Kano, according to the BBC.
Officials suspect Boko Haram was behind both attacks, but the group has not claimed responsibility for either. The Nigerian military this year has reclaimed significant portions of territory seized by the militant group, which is attempting to create an Islamic state. The group’s ability to mount large-scale attacks and abductions weakened, Boko Haram has turned to “soft targets”—markets, mosques, and other public spaces. In late October, a suicide bombing attack at a mosque in Yola killed 27 people.
People present at or near Tuesday’s blast say the bustling market was instantly transformed into a devastating crime scene.
“The ground near my shop was covered with dead bodies,” Alhaji Ahmed, who owns a shop in the market, told Reuters. “I helped to load 32 dead bodies into five vehicles.”
Aisha Aliyu, a young girl, told the Times a friend and the woman’s four children had died.
“It is really tragic for us,” she said. Aliyu’s two young cousins had narrowly missed the explosion.
Late Tuesday night, Facebook activated its “safety check” feature in Nigeria, which allows users to mark themselves as safe. The social-media network used the feature Friday night when terrorists killed 129 people across Paris. The decision drew criticism from some users because Facebook hadn’t done the same for Beirut, where 43 people were killed by a suicide bomber a day earlier. Before last week, Facebook had only activated the safety check after earthquakes in Afghanistan, Chile, and Nepal.
Buhari, who took office in May, offered his condolences to the families of the victims of Tuesday’s attack on Twitter, and renewed his campaign promise to destroy Boko Haram.
“The enemies of humanity will never win," he tweeted. “Hand in hand, we will rid our land of terrorism.”
Boko Haram, which adheres to strict Sharia law and opposes Western-style education, was established in 2002 and launched its military insurgency in 2009. In April 2014, militants abducted 267 schoolgirls in Chibok, a primarily Christian village. None have been found. In March, it aligned itself with the Islamic State, calling itself the group’s “West African province.”
On Wednesday, a new report found Boko Haram is the world’s deadliest extremist group. According to the Global Terrorism Index, published by the New York City-based Institute for Economics and Peace, deaths attributed to the militant group increased by 317 percent in 2014 to 6,644. Deaths by the Islamic State stood at 6,073. Both groups are responsible for 51 percent of terrorism-related deaths worldwide.