Bomb rocks city as Nigeria takes command of Boko Haram fight

By MICHELLE FAUL AND HARUNA UMAR | The Associated Press | Published: June 3, 2015

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — An explosion that thundered across the city killed at least 11 people in Nigeria's northeastern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday, as a Nigerian general took command of a multinational force fighting the extremist group Boko Haram.

Panicked soldiers fired into the air, witnesses said, adding to the fear and confusion during the rush hour attack on Baga Road. The blast was followed by a blinding sandstorm and then the first rains of the year, hampering rescue efforts.

Witness Issa Audu said he counted 11 bodies before he fled.

Maiduguri, the city where Boko Haram was created, has suffered daily attacks that have killed more than 50 people since the weekend. They include suicide bombs, planted bombs and rocket-propelled grenades fired into homes as people slept.

The attacks started after newly inaugurated President Muhammadu Buhari announced on Friday he is moving the command center for the fight against Boko Haram to Maiduguri, at the heart of the war zone against Nigeria's home-grown Islamic extremists.

Earlier Wednesday, the defense ministry announced that Maj. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai has taken charge of the multinational force fighting Boko Haram. That takes the lead role away from neighboring Chad.

The Nigerian army "remains a virile fighting force ... capable of routing Boko Haram," Buhari declared Wednesday on a visit to Niger, which is contributing troops and hosting hundreds of thousands of Nigerian refugees from the violence.

The appointment came the day before he is scheduled to visit N'Djamena, the Chadian capital that is the headquarters of the multinational force.

Before his election, Buhari, a retired major general who was briefly a military dictator in the 1980s, had said the presence of foreign troops on Nigerian soil was "a national disgrace."

He has promised to cooperate fully with Chad and Niger, which had complained that a lack of cooperation was hampering the war.

Battle-hardened Chadian troops took the lead in an offensive this year that drove Boko Haram from northeastern towns where the extremist group had declared an Islamic caliphate.

But the Chadians several times have had to retake some Nigerian towns seized back from Boko Haram because Nigerian troops did not arrive to secure them.

The insurgents continue hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings from a northeastern forest stronghold.

Some 13,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million driven from their homes in the nearly six-year-old uprising that spilled over Nigeria's northeastern borders.

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