Death toll in Nigeria car bombings rises to 12 as investigators hunt for oil-region militants

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nigeria: Death toll in bombings rises to 12

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigeria’s president on Saturday criticized the group claiming responsibility for setting off two car bombs during the oil-rich nation’s 50 anniversary of independence, calling them terrorists who used the struggles of his homeland to “camouflage criminality.”

President Goodluck Jonathan’s comments came as the death toll for the attack claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, also known as MEND, rose to 12, with dozens more maimed by the explosions.

“They are not representing anybody’s interest,” the president said of MEND, Nigeria’s main militant group in the southern delta.

Jonathan visited Abuja’s National Hospital to see some of those wounded by the car bombs, set off only a 10-minute walk away from where he and other dignitaries sat during Friday’s celebration.

The president, who is from Nigeria’s oil-rich and restive southern delta, told gathered reporters that he went to school only a few kilometers away from where Royal Dutch Shell PLC drilled the nation’s first oil well.

“This is the first time somebody from the Niger Delta has the opportunity to be president of this country. … You have your own here, you should have hope,” Jonathan said. “Good things don’t happen overnight.”

Jonathan also acknowledged that there were “security lapses” that allowed the bombing, but declined to offer any specific plan to overhaul security agencies in Africa’s most populous nation.

Meanwhile, Abuja police spokesman Jimoh Moshood told The Associated Press that at least 12 people have died from injuries they suffered from the car bombings. He said another 11 officers were critically injured in the blasts and at least 17 others suffered injuries.

Moshood said police are searching for clues about who planted the bombs.

MEND issued a warning to journalists about an hour before the attacks Friday, telling people to stay away from festivities at Eagle Square in the nation’s capital of Abuja. It blamed Nigeria’s government for doing nothing to end the unceasing poverty in the delta as the nation receives billions of dollars from oil revenue.

The militant group has destroyed oil pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company workers and fought government troops since 2006.

Violence in the delta drastically subsided after a government-sponsored amnesty deal last year provided cash for fighters and the promise of job training. However, many ex-fighters now complain that the government has failed to fulfill its promises.

The militant group appeared to splinter over the amnesty program, though it proved its operational abilities in March when it detonated two car bombs near a government building in the Niger Delta where officials were discussing the deal. The blasts wounded two people in an attack heard live on television. The group also used car bombs in several attacks in 2006 that killed at least two people.

Nigeria, which is vying with Angola to be Africa’s top supplier of crude oil, is a major supplier to the U.S.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed from Lagos, Nigeria.

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