POSTED: 11:03 a.m. HST, Jan 1, 2011
ABUJA, Nigeria — Muslim extremists may have planted the bomb that exploded at an army barracks in Nigeria's capital, the country's president said Saturday after the latest attack in a nation beset by violence in recent weeks.
No one has claimed responsibility for Friday's explosion, which killed at least four people and wounded 21 as they celebrated New Year's Eve in the barrack's open-air beer garden and market. President Goodluck Jonathan promised people attending a church service in Abuja that those responsible would be found.
However, his vague remarks appeared to indicate that security agencies remain ill-prepared to halt such violence as the nation nears what could be a tumultuous April election.
"Some people say they are politicians, some say they are religious fanatics, but to me they are pure criminals, they are (the) ones demons are using these days, not only in Nigeria," Jonathan said. "For those of you who have time to listen to world news on Al-Jazeera or CNN, you will see that terrorism is crisscrossing the whole world."
On Saturday, U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the attack, offered his condolences to the victims and their families, and offered to help Jonathan's government bring the perpetrators to justice.
"Killing innocent civilians who were simply gathering — like so many people around the world — to celebrate the beginning of a New Year further demonstrates the bankrupt vision of those who carry out these attacks," Obama said in a statement.
The blast struck the barracks, called the Mogadishu Cantonment, around 7:30 p.m. Friday in an area of market stalls and beer parlors referred to locally as a "mammy market." There, civilians, soldiers and the occasional foreigner regularly gather for drinks and its famous barbecued fish.
Local police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said the number of injuries in the attack rose to 21, while four people had died. The state-run Nigerian Television Authority reported Friday night that 30 people had died after the blast.
Moshood acknowledged the blast seemed to target both civilians and soldiers, but he declined to say where the explosive was placed.
"It is too early to draw any conclusion now," he said Saturday.
The blast came days after a similar attack struck a nation that remains uneasily divided between Christians and Muslims. On Christmas Eve, three bombs exploded in the central Nigerian city of Jos, killing dozens of people. That area has seen more than 500 people die in religious and ethnic violence this year alone.
Members of a radical Muslim sect, known locally as Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the bombings and attacks on two churches in the northern city of Maiduguri the same night, killing at least six people.
In Abuja, Nigeria's capital, a dual car bombing killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens during an Oct. 1 independence celebration. The main militant group in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claimed responsibility for that attack.
In his remarks during the church service, Jonathan said the Oct. 1 bombs bore similarities to explosives used in parts of the Niger Delta. He said Friday's bomb appeared to be "identical with the ones that happened in Jos."
"So as long as the security operatives know the two routes, we will get to where these things are coming from," he said.
Nigeria is a vital supplier of easily refined crude oil to the U.S., and unrest in the West African nation has affected oil prices in the past.
Western diplomats worry that ethnic, religious and political violence could hobble the nation of 150 million people just as it adjusts to democracy after years of military dictatorships and coups.
Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria.