A triple bombing at a bus station in north Nigeria during Friday morning rush hour killed at least eight people and injured 41 others, as hopes of a ceasefire with Boko Haram appeared to suffer another blow.
It is not clear if the Islamist militants were behind the attack in Gombe city, the capital of Gombe state, but the extremists have a track record of targeting commuters.
Gombe’s police chief Abdullahi Kudu said three suspects were arrested immediately after the blasts at the Gombe Line Station at about 9:00 am (0800 GMT).
Multiple witnesses said the men entered the station in one vehicle and then dropped bags packed with explosives between the buses which were filling up with travellers.
A rescue worker, who requested anonymity, said eight bodies were found at the scene and brought to the Gombe Specialist Hospital.
The same source later sent AFP a breakdown of the casualties indicating 41 wounded.
The bus station descended into chaos after the bombs went off, with several injured in a stampede of people trying to flee the scene, the rescue worker said.
Mobs surrounded the suspected bombers and police had to intervene to prevent them from being trampled to death, said Gome Line employee Lawanti Aliyu, in an account supported by others.
Locals reportedly threw stones at vehicles carrying security service personnel who rushed to the scene, apparently outraged at the fresh violence in the city which has been attacked by Boko Haram in the past.
– Similar attacks –
Gombe shares a border with three northeastern states under emergency rule since May 2013 because of the Boko Haram uprising: Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.
The police chief said he believed the suspected attackers had travelled together from Yobe, where the insurgents are thought to be in control of several towns and cities.
The militants have claimed credit for a series of bus station bombings this year, including two in April and May on the outskirts of the capital Abuja that killed nearly 100 people.
An October 23 attack at a bus station in Bauchi state, which also neighbours Gombe, killed five people, with many again blaming Boko Haram.
– Refugee crisis –
Nigeria’s surprise announcement on October 17 that it had brokered a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram offered a sliver of hope that the brutal five-year uprising could be nearing an end.
The conflict, which Boko Haram says is aimed at creating an Islamic state in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, has left an estimated 13,000 people dead, including killings by the security forces.
But the violence has continued at a relentless pace and many have questioned the credibility of the so-called Boko Haram envoy reportedly negotiating with the government.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on Friday said worsening violence in northeast Nigeria and cross-border attacks inside Cameroon had heightened fear and made it increasingly difficult to relocate refugees.
“Cameroonian civilians are living in a state of terror due to frequent insurgent attacks,” a statement said.
Efforts to move Nigerian refugees to a Cameroonian camp at Minawao, 120 kilometres (75 miles) inside the border, had been hindered by waves of violence.
There are currently 16,282 refugees at the Minawao camp, a figure which has tripled in the last three months, and the UN is preparing for new arrivals with the population possibly swelling to 35,000 in the coming weeks.
Nigeria’s border state of Borno is Boko Haram’s historic stronghold but the group has stepped up raids inside Cameroon over the last year.
In expanding their insurgency, experts say the Islamists are seeking new sources of revenue through robberies and fresh recruits by abductions, while exploiting a remote area left under-protected by Cameroon’s military.
Nigeria has maintained that the ceasefire deal is still intact and has voiced hope that apparent talks in neighbouring Chad will lead to a clear decline in violence.
But critics, who were suspicious of the deal from the outset, say Nigeria has again been duped by fraudulent negotiators who have little or no influence over Boko Haram’s core leadership.