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Blast in Nigerian capital kills 71, wounds 124

ABUJA, Nigeria — A massive explosion ripped through a bus station during the morning rush hour, killing at least 71 people and wounding 124 in the bloodiest terrorist attack ever in Nigeria’s capital of Abuja.

President Goodluck Jonathan visited the scene and blamed Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that operates in the northeast of Nigeria and has been threatening to attack Abuja.

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One official said he believed the bomb was buried in the earth while the emergency management agency said the explosives were apparently hidden in a vehicle.

The blast destroyed 16 luxury buses and 24 minibuses and cars, said police spokesman Frank Mba, who gave the death toll.

Security personnel cordoned off the area as a bomb detonation team searched for secondary explosives, a common occurrence here.

Thousands of bystanders gathered, ignoring warnings to stay away.

While violence has torn the northeast, where Boko Haram has killed thousands, the capital in the middle of Africa’s most populous country has been relatively peaceful.

Two notable exceptions occurred when Boko Haram members rammed two explosives-laden cars into the lobby of the United Nations office building in 2011, killing at least 21 people, and when militants from the southern oil-producing Niger Delta in October 2010 exploded two car bombs at an Independence Day celebration, leaving at least 12 people dead.

There was no immediate claim for Monday’s bombing, though bus stations are a favored Boko Haram target. In March 2013, the extremists drove a car bomb into the main bus station in Kano, Nigeria’s second biggest city, killing at least 25 people.

Boko Haram’s campaign to make Nigeria an Islamic state with sharia, or Islamic law, enforced throughout the country poses the greatest threat to its cohesion and security and threatens nearby countries, where the fighters have gone to train.

‘‘The issue of Boko Haram is quite an ugly history within this period of our own development,’’ said Jonathan. ‘‘Government is doing everything to make sure that we move our country forward . . . But the issue of Boko Haram is temporary. Surely, we will get over it.’’

The military has claimed it has the upper hand in the war, but the extremists have fought back with more frequent and ever-deadlier attacks.

Some 750,000 people have been forced from towns and villages, including tens of thousands of farmers who had to abandon their farms, risking a food shortage this year.

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