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Nigeria Army Barracks Bombing: At Least 30 Dead From Explosion At Beer Garden

BASHIR ADIGUN and JON GAMBRELL   12/31/10 05:29 PM ET   AP

Aptopix Nigeria Barracks

ABUJA, Nigeria — A bomb blast tore through a beer garden at a Nigerian army barracks where revelers had gathered to celebrate New Year's Eve, witnesses said, and state-run television reported Friday that 30 people died, though police immediately disputed that.

A local police spokesman said the blast occurred at about 7:30 p.m. Friday in Abuja, the capital of Africa's most populous nation.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion in this oil-rich nation where citizens remain uneasy after bombings at other locations had killed dozens of people several days earlier.

"It's unfortunate that some people planted (a) bomb where people are relaxing because of the new year," Air Marshal Oluseyi Petirin told journalists. "Nobody has been able to give accurate figures (of casualties), but we have rescued some people."

An anchor on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority gave a death toll of 30 to viewers Friday night. The channel did not give an estimate on the number of injured.

Local police spokesman Jimoh Moshood immediately disputed the figure, saying only four people had died and 13 were wounded. Death tolls remain contentious in Nigeria, as politicians often inflate or shrink tolls to suit their aspirations.

Witnesses said the market appeared full at the time of the blast. A local journalist at the scene told The Associated Press that soldiers carried injured people away, with one officer saying he feared there were fatalities.

In the minutes after the explosion, police and soldiers swarmed the area, blocking onlookers from entering the area. Later, an AP journalist saw police carrying out covered bodies and putting them in the back of police vehicles. Officers shouted at each other to keep the bodies covered and hidden from onlookers.

The base, called the Mogadishu Cantonment, includes an area of market stalls and beer parlors referred to locally as a "mammy market." There, civilians and soldiers regularly gather for drinks and its famous barbecued fish.

The blasts come 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 die in religious and ethnic violence this year alone.

Members of a radical Muslim sect attacked two churches in the northern city of Maiduguri the same night, killing at least six people.

The sect, known locally as Boko Haram, later claimed responsibility for both attacks in an Internet message. Police say they are still investigating those attacks.

Boko Haram means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language. Its members re-emerged recently after starting a July 2009 riot that led to a security crackdown that left 700 people dead.

The Christmas Eve killings in Jos and Maiduguri add to the tally of thousands who already have died in Nigeria in the last decade over religious and political tension. The bombings also come as the nation prepares for what could be a tumultuous presidential election in April.

This isn't the first time Nigeria's typically quiet capital has seen violence this year. A dual car bombing killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens more during an Oct. 1 independence celebration in the capital. The main militant group in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claimed responsibility for the attack.

In a statement, a spokesman for President Goodluck Jonathan said whoever planted the bomb wanted "to turn the joys of fellow Nigerians to ashes."

"This is extreme evil. It is wicked. It defies all that we believe in and stand for as a nation," the statement from Ima Niboro read.

It added: "They must be made to pay. No one, and we repeat, no one, can make this nation ungovernable."

Nigeria, an OPEC-member nation, remains a vital supplier of easily refined crude oil to the U.S. Unrest in the West African nation has affected oil prices in the past. Beyond that, Western diplomats worry ethnic, religious and political violence could hobble the nation of 150 million people forever just as it adjusts to democracy after years of military dictatorships and coups.

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Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria.

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Filed by Carly Schwartz  |