ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A car bomb exploded on a busy road in Nigeria's capital late Thursday, killing at least nine people days before the city is to host a major international economic forum.
The bomb exploded near a checkpoint across the road from a busy bus station where a massive explosion on April 14 killed at least 75 people. That blast was claimed by the Islamic extremist Boko Hararm terrorist network.
Thursday's bomb comes days before Abuja is to host the World Economic Forum on Africa, with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as an honored guest. The government is deploying 6,000 police to protect the May 7-9 event, which attracts world leaders, policymakers, philanthropists and business leaders to discuss Africa's economic growth prospects.
Civil Defense Corps spokesman Emmanuel Okeh said rescuers with ambulances and fire engines rushed to the scene of the blast on May Day, a public holiday in the West African nation.
Okeh said nine bodies were taken from the scene to the mortuary and 11 unconscious victims were being treated in hospitals.
Witnesses said a car laden with explosives drove close to the checkpoint and a man jumped out and ran as it blew up. Lines of traffic are normal at the checkpoint where soldiers and police search vehicles since the bombing two weeks ago. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety.
Two unexploded IEDs were found at the scene, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. Islamic militants in Nigeria often time secondary explosions to target rescuers and others drawn to a bombing.
While there was no immediate claim for Thursday's bombing, it bears all the hallmarks of Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sinful." The group wants to create an Islamic state in Nigeria, which it claims would halt crippling corruption that keeps 70 percent of the people in Africa's richest nation impoverished.
Hours after the April 14 car bombing, which wounded at least 141 people, Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 250 teenage girls at a school in the remote northeast, which is their stronghold. About 50 of the girls escaped their captors, but 200 remain missing in a growing embarrassment for Nigeria's government and military.
The attacks have undermined government and military assurances that the Islamic extremists had been contained in a northeastern corner of the country. Every time the military trumpets a success against the militants, they step up the tempo and deadliness of attacks. More than 1,500 people have died in the Islamic uprising this year, compared to 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.
President Goodluck Jonathan told a May Day rally in Abuja earlier Thursday that the perpetrators must be brought justice.
"We shall triumph over all this evil that wants to debase our humanity or obstruct our progress as a nation," he vowed. "Those who want to re-define our country to be seen as a country of chaos will never succeed."
Last week, he assured the Chinese ambassador that the hundreds of delegates expected at the World Economic Forum on Africa "will not have a problem with security during the summit."
Abuja, in the heart of the country and far from Boko Haram's northeastern stronghold, had remained relatively peaceful since a 2011 suicide car bombing of the local U.N. headquarters that killed 21 people and wounded 60.
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and is the continent's most populous nation. Its 170 million people are almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims. The uprising poses the greatest threat to Nigeria's cohesion and security and imperils nearby countries where its fighters have gone to train. Fighters from Chad, Cameroon and Niger have been found among extremists in Nigeria.
In May 2013, Jonathan declared a state of emergency and deployed thousands of troops to the northeast after the extremists took control of entire towns and villages. Security forces quickly forced the insurgents out of urban areas but have been battling to dislodge them from hideouts in forests and mountain caves along the border with Cameroon and Chad.
Near-daily air bombardments of that area have halted since the girls and young women were abducted.
Governors and traditional leaders in the northeast have demanded that Jonathan end the state of emergency, which is due for renewal mid-May, saying it is causing suffering and has not been effective. Some 750,000 people have been forced from towns and villages, including tens of thousands of farmers, risking a food shortage.
Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.