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As military advances in Nigeria, Boko Haram ramps up bombings

March 7, 2015 at 6:52 PM EDT
As many as five separate bomb blasts reportedly killed at least 54 people and wounded 143 others in Northeastern Nigeria on Saturday. Suicide bombers targeted several crowded markets and a busy bus station. Michelle Faul, the Associated Press Nigerian bureau chief, joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Nigeria with more.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: As many as five separate bomb blasts reportedly killed at least 54 people and wounded 143 others in northeastern Nigeria.

Some of the victims were children. Suicide bombers targeted a couple of crowded markets and a busy bus station. A car bomb went off at a military checkpoint.

For the latest, we’re joined via Skype by Nigerian bureau chief with the Associated Press, Michelle Faul.

So, what you can tell us about what happened today?

MICHELLE FAUL, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, multiple blasts I mean four in the city, one at the checkpoint outside.

We’re told by the police that at least 54 people were killed and another 143 are in hospitals in Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno State.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And this is in the context of advances that the Nigerian military seems to be making in other parts of the state, against Boko Haram, right?

MICHELLE FAUL: The Nigerian military, and Chadian troops — the Chadians have been leading this multinational effort to wrest towns and villages back from Boko Haram, and Boko Haram’s way of dealing with this has been with many more suicide bombings and attacks on remote villages.

Now, Maiduguri is the birth place of Boko Haram. It’s the city where Boko Haram would like to form an Islamic caliphate with Maiduguri as the capital. So, it has great significance for the Islamic uprising.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And over the past couple of weeks or months, we’ve also, unfortunately, had to report that some of these suicide bombers are young girls or even women.

MICHELLE FAUL: Girls as young as 10 years old, we’ve been told.

One of them, a 10-year-old, or so she appeared to witnesses, was responsible for bombing a market in Maiduguri just last month.

There are fears that the women that are being used and the girls that are being used in these attacks may be kidnap victims.

As you know, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of young women, girls, boys, young men.

Nobody knows how many. I think the most famous one you’ll remember were nearly 300 girls from a school in Chibok.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is the support of the neighboring nations making a difference in this fight?

MICHELLE FAUL: Well, I think certainly the Chadians have been taking the bull by the horns in wresting major Boko Haram strongholds from the militants and have in a way galvanized Nigerian troops intro responding as well.

Because up until recent weeks Nigerian troops had been mainly failing at every front against Boko Haram, which had been making advances, and which we were told at one point in January was holding an area the size of Belgium.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And where is Nigerian public opinion on this now?

MICHELLE FAUL: Nigerian public opinion is very mixed.

I think most people are very upset with President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure to curtail this uprising, and we have presidential elections coming up on March the 28th, a very important election for President Jonathan, who wants to be re-elected.

But we’re told by analysts that this is so close, that it is too close to call.


Michelle Faul, Nigerian bureau chief of the Associated Press joining us via Skype, thanks so much.

MICHELLE FAUL: You’re most welcome.