Blasts heard in Nigerian city of Maiduguri before polls

Blasts heard in Nigerian city of Maiduguri before polls

Maiduguri (Nigeria): A series of explosions was heard in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Saturday, shortly before the opening of polls in presidential and parliamentary elections.

Multiple blasts were heard at about 6:00 am (0500 GMT), locals told AFP. There was no immediate indication of the cause. Security sources meanwhile reported clashes between the military and suspected Boko Haram fighters in Auno, on the border of Borno state with neighbouring Yobe. An attack in the town of Geidam, north of the Yobe state capital Damaturu, also forced residents to flee, they added. 

Maiduguri is the birthplace of Boko Haram Islamists and has been repeatedly attacked during their nearly 10-year insurgency that has devastated the remote region. Polls open at 0700 GMT, with President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general who has vowed to defeat the jihadists, seeking a second term. Boko Haram has warned it will disrupt the elections. One resident in the Gomari neighbourhood of Maiduguri said: "I heard several explosions coming from the Bulumkutu area this morning but it's unclear what is happening. 

"There have been suspicions that it was an attack by Boko Haram but we don't know yet." He added: "Late yesterday (Friday), some gunmen went into the house of a man in Gomari and shot him dead. We still don't know the motive." Two other residents gave a similar account. The early morning explosions in Maiduguri come after a Boko Haram attack late on Friday on Zabarmari village, some 10 kilometres (six miles) outside Maiduguri. The attack forced residents to flee into the city. 

Boko Haram's Islamist insurgency in northeast Nigeria has killed more than 27,000 people and left 1.8 million people homeless. But the government and military have repeatedly said the jihadists are weakened to the point of defeat, despite persistent hit-and-run raids and suicide bomb attacks. In recent months, there has been an increase in attacks against troops, blamed on or claimed by Boko Haram's Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction. The IS-backed group is known to operate in northern Yobe state and around the border with Borno state.

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