JOHANNESBURG — In soccer-mad Nigeria, which is reaching fever pitch amid the World Cup tournament in Brazil, people often cram into viewing centers to watch games.
But Boko Haram, the northern Nigerian extremist group fighting for an Islamist state, has declared soccer to be “haram,” or sinful.
Officials on Wednesday said the group, or a similar splinter group, was suspected of being behind a blast a day earlier that killed at least 14 people and injured many more, including children, at an open-air World Cup viewing venue in Damaturu, capital of Yobe state. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Police Assistant Superintendent Nathan Cheghan said 26 people were wounded in the blast Tuesday night, which came as people watched Brazil play Mexico. There were concerns that the number of fatalities could rise.
Initial reports suggested the attack was a suicide blast in a three-wheeler rickshaw taxi. Authorities later reported that a vehicle loaded with explosives may have been abandoned near the venue.
One victim of Tuesday’s attack, Musa Mohammed, had stopped to buy cellphone air time when the blast went off.
“It was just like a flash of light and many people were killed. Some were amputated. … But thank God mine was a lesser injury,” he told The Associated Press.
The blast follows several similar attacks in northern Nigeria in recent months. A little more than two weeks ago, 14 people were killed in a bomb attack on a bar in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state, where people were watching soccer. In May, three people were killed at a soccer-viewing venue in Jos, the capital of Plateau state. In April, two people died when gunmen opened fire on a soccer-viewing venue in Yobe state.
For many who lack cable TV at home, it is the only way to see World Cup games and other major soccer matches live. But Nigerian authorities have warned that venues screening soccer matches could be targeted by extremists
Authorities in Adamawa and Plateau states and the Federal Capital Territory recently banned screenings of World Cup matches in public venues because of the risk of attacks. Police in other areas have warned owners of such venues to take extra security precautions
Government spokesman Mike Omeri said militants were planning new attacks on the capital, Abuja, using gas tankers and explosive devices. Militants attacked a crowded bus station on the outskirts of Abuja in April and set off a second blast in the same neighborhood weeks later.
Military officials on Tuesday claimed to have arrested a Boko Haram leader when more than 480 people were arrested Sunday while traveling in a convoy of buses in southern Nigeria. Details about the incident were sparse.
The group opposes Western education and culture, which it sees as the products of corrupt infidels.
The insurgency has deepened divisions between the mainly Muslim north and mainly Christian south in Africa’s most populous nation, which has about 170 million people.
Soccer-viewing venues make easy targets in Africa. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, more than 70 people died in an attack by the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. The U.S. Embassy in Kampala recently issued a warning to avoid crowded soccer-viewing venues in Uganda because of the risk of attack.