A car laden with explosives rammed through two gates and blew up at the United Nations’ offices in Nigeria’s capital on Friday, killing at least eight people and shattering part of the concrete structure.
The brazen attack, carried out as the U.N. offices teemed with staff, comes as Africa’s most populous nation faces the growing threat of both homegrown and international terrorism. Militants from a radical Muslim sect from northeast Nigeria have carried out attacks in the country’s capital, though never on a foreign target. The country’s oil-rich Niger Delta in the south has also spawned a violent militant group.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that a sedan rammed through two separate gates at the U.N. compound as guards tried to stop the vehicle. The suicide bomber inside crashed the car into the main reception area and detonated the explosives, inflicting the most damage possible, a spokesman for the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency said.
“I saw scattered bodies,” said Michael Ofilaje, a UNICEF worker at the building, which he said shook with the explosion. “Many people are dead.”
The building houses about 400 employees of the U.N. in Nigeria, including the majority of its offices. A local U.N. spokesman declined to comment, but a local hospital administrator told the AP it had treated as many as 40 victims so far, with more people coming in.
Eight bodies of victims were brought to the morgue of the nearby National Hospital, spokesman Payo Hastrup said. Local television stations broadcast pleas for blood donation. Officials tried to account for everyone inside the building at the time of the explosion.
“We believe there are many casualties but at this point we don’t know what the level of casualties is,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York. “We condemn all terror attacks regardless of motivation.”
The building, located in the same neighbourhood as the U.S. embassy and other diplomatic posts in Abuja, houses offices of a number of U.N. agencies including the U.N. Development Programme, UNICEF and the U.N. Population Fund.
The explosion punched a huge hole in the building. Workers brought three large cranes to the site within hours of the attack, trying to pull away the concrete and rubble to find survivors. Others at the site stood around, stunned, as medical workers began carrying out what appeared to be the dead.
“This is getting out of hand,” said a U.N. staffer who identified himself as Bodunrin. “If they can get into the U.N. House, they can reach anywhere.”
Ali Tikko, who was in a building 100 meters from the site of the blast when it occurred said, “I heard one big boom.”
“I see a number of people lying on the floor — at least four or five. I cannot see if they are dead. There are a lot of security around,” Mr. Tikko said by telephone.
Local police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said police are investigating. Reuben Abati, a spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan, said the presidency would later issue a statement on the attack.
No one immediately claimed responsibility. Oil-rich Nigeria faces terrorism threats on multiple fronts.