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Scores in Nigeria killed in terror bombings as Ramadan ends

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn to defeat Boko Haram. Above, Buhari arrives in Abuja, Nigeria, for his inauguration in May.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has sworn to defeat Boko Haram. Above, Buhari arrives in Abuja, Nigeria, for his inauguration in May.

(Sunday Alamba / Associated Press)

As families in northern Nigeria marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan, terrorists mounted a series of deadly attacks, killing scores of people, including many children.

Families traditionally flock into the streets to pray, shop and celebrate one the most joyful celebrations in the Muslim year, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of a month of daytime fasting and is meant to be a time of unity.

But a market, a mosque and prayer ground were all targets for attacks blamed on Boko Haram, a terror group linked to Islamic State.

The attacks came just days before Nigeria’s new president, Muhammadu Buhari, was due to fly to Washington, where he is expected to press President Obama for more help in the fight against Boko Haram.

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Two bombs exploded at a market in the northeastern city of Gombe late Thursday, killing dozens of people shopping for Eid al-Fitr, according to the National Emergency Management Agency, or NEMA, in a statement on Twitter.

In Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, at least 15 people died Friday in two bomb explosions near an open-air prayer ground, set aside for prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, according to police, though the army put the toll at 50. It is not unusual to see conflicting reports on casualties between agencies.

The third blast occurred at a mosque.

The explosions were caused by three females wearing suicide vests, according NEMA, although it is not known whether they detonated the bombs themselves. According to a statement from army spokesman Sani Usman, one of the bombers was a girl about 10 years old.

Boko Haram has increasingly used young women and girls, wearing explosive vests under their long flowing gowns, to mount its attacks. Some reports suggest those blasts are detonated remotely.

According to NEMA, the explosion at the prayer ground happened as people were lining up to be searched before entering the area, a measure designed to avert an attack.

The attacks underscored the difficulties faced by Nigeria’s military in confronting a nimble, ruthless terror group capable of devastating attacks against civilian targets.

Buhari recently sacked top military commanders amid accusations of human rights abuses, corruption and incompetence in the fight against the militant group. The president also shifted the military’s command center to the northeastern city of Maiduguri to sharpen the response to Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, only to see attacks surge during Ramadan.

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Nigerians, impatient for an end to the violence, have high expectations of Buhari, with some already criticizing him for not slowing the insurgency after just seven weeks in office. Some have also questioned his delay in appointing a cabinet.

Religious leaders, northern governors and former heads of state on Friday urged Nigerians to be patient and unite behind Buhari in order to end the Boko Haram insurgency.

In a message marking Eid al-Fitr, Buhari called on all Nigerians to accept the lessons of self-denial and sacrifice that marked the month of fasting, as the country sought to overcome the damage wrought by years of bad governance.

He called for patience and understanding, saying he was hard at work tackling the nation’s problems.

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“I was very aware of your high expectations when I assumed office and I reassure you, my fellow citizens, that since my inauguration ... I have been working with utmost dedication to meticulously plan and tackle the many national challenges which we identified and promised to resolve.

“I also share the feelings of those who think that we should be moving faster. But I urge them and all Nigerians to trust that my commitment to real and positive change in our nation is as firm as ever,” Buhari said.

Nigeria’s new army commander, Maj. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, visited Damaturu on Friday and told journalists he would not tolerate lack of discipline in the force. He joined thousands of Muslims for prayers at Damaturu’s central mosque, not far from where the blasts happened.

Follow @robyndixon_lat on Twitter for news out of Africa

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