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Islamist attacks kill at least 74 in Nigeria's north

People look at the wreckage of a car on March 2, 2014 after two explosions killed at least 35 people in a crowded neighbourhood of Nigeria's restless northeastern city of Maiduguri
People look at the wreckage of a car on March 2, 2014 after two explosions killed at least 35 people in a crowded neighbourhood of Nigeria's restless northeastern city of Maiduguri

At least 74 people have been killed in three weekend attacks in Nigeria's restive northeast, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives since 2009, police and residents said Sunday.

French President Francois Hollande, who paid a two-day visit to Nigeria last week, issued a statement condemning "the terrorist attacks with the greatest possible rigour".

The last two weeks have been particularly bloody in Africa's most populous country, with nearly 250 people killed in attacks blamed on Boko Haram before the three weekend attacks.

On Saturday, two blasts in a crowded district of the hotbed city of Maiduguri left at least 35 dead, while another 39 were killed in the nearby village of Mainok by gunmen believed to be Boko Haram fighters.

"We are still counting. So far we have counted 35 bodies. Our men are still working with rescue workers at the scene," Borno state police commissioner Lawal Tanko told AFP of the explosions in the Gomari area of the city.

Witnesses said the final death toll could rise and as many as 50 people may have been killed and dozens of homes razed in the blasts.

Red Cross officials search on March 2, 2014 for the bodies of the victims and the wounded at the scene where two explosions rocked a crowded neigbourhood in Maiduguri's Gomaris district
Red Cross officials search on March 2, 2014 for the bodies of the victims and the wounded at the scene where two explosions rocked a crowded neigbourhood in Maiduguri's Gomaris district

One area resident who did not want to be named said soldiers, police and volunteers took 50 bodies to a local hospital.

"The bodies included men, women and children. There is so much panic in the area, which is mostly deserted. Most people have fled their homes," he added.

A Red Cross volunteer who did not want to be named said he had "succeeded in evacuating 51 dead bodies" after working all night. "Children are most affected," he said, adding that nearly 60 people were injured.

Hassan Ali, a leader of a vigilante group in Gomari, said many people remained buried under rubble.

He said many food vendors and children hawking in front of a cinema hall in the area were killed while more than 20 houses and shops were destroyed.

- RPGS and Kashnikovs -

Mallam Mohammed Buba, a witness, said the blast happened when most residents were preparing for evening prayer.

"Only a few people were injured by the first blast but while people were trying to rescue the victims of the first blast the second one took place, killing many people," he added.

Most of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition and many families were seen searching for the remains of their loved ones.

In a separate attack on Saturday, dozens of gunmen dressed in military uniform stormed Mainok, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Maiduguri, firing rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs and killing 39 people, a resident said.

"They came in around 7:00 pm and opened fire indiscriminately with RPGs, explosives and AK-47 rifles," resident Yahaya Umar told AFP.

"They killed 39 people who were buried this morning and destroyed the whole town," he said.

Another resident, Abdullahi Gana, gave a similar account of the incident.

"We were just lamenting the twin blasts in Maiduguri ... when the Boko Haram gunmen arrived and started firing volleys of RPGs and guns," he said.

People look at the damage on March 2, 2014 after two explosions rocked in a crowded neighbourhood of Nigeria's restless northeastern city of Maiduguri
People look at the damage on March 2, 2014 after two explosions rocked in a crowded neighbourhood of Nigeria's restless northeastern city of Maiduguri

Military and police authorities were not available for comment on the incident, the latest blamed on the Boko Haram Islamist group in the village.

The insurgents have repeatedly attacked Mainok in the past two years. In July, a separate raid killed 25 people.

Boko Haram which in local Hausa means "Western education is evil", claims to be fighting to create a strict Islamic state in the mainly Muslim north.

The sect has since 2009 carried out attacks across the north and centre of the country, but the violence has in recent months been concentrated in the northeast, the region where Boko Haram was founded more than a decade ago.

Three states in the region -- Adamawa, Borno and Yobe -- have been under a state of emergency since last May when the military launched a major offensive to quash the uprising.

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