ABUJA, Nigeria — An explosion caused by a suspected car bomb tore through a crowded bus station in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, on Monday during the morning rush hour, and police said at least 71 people were killed and 124 wounded in one of the most lethal attacks to strike the country.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who visited the blast scene, blamed Boko Haram, the homegrown Islamist extremist group that has been attacking schools, government sites and civilians for years.
Police said the explosion ripped through 16 luxury coaches and 24 minibuses, and that the initial blast spurred further explosions when vehicle tanks caught on fire. They said they suspected that a bomb had been planted in a Volkswagen Golf that was driven into the station and then detonated.
Witnesses said they saw bodies mangled beyond recognition, charred vehicles and strewed body parts that were being collected by emergency workers.
The blast occurred at 6:30 a.m., not far from the city center in a poor, working-class area. Local residents said the bus station was only about a 15-minute drive from Jonathan’s office and residence, giving the attack a particularly frightening resonance.
While the president blamed Boko Haram, a police spokesman, Frank Mba, said that no one had claimed immediate responsibility for the explosion, and that an investigation was underway. He said emergency workers were still collecting casualty figures.
“So far, we have a total of 71 persons dead and 124 others injured, and they are all receiving treatments at various hospitals,” he said.
Susan Eual, an assistant librarian at the MacArthur Foundation in Abuja, said by phone that the capital was on edge as scenes from the blast were shown on television.
“There are dead bodies scattered everywhere, and vehicles are on fire,” she said. “Everybody is afraid and staying at home.”
She said that Boko Haram, which is active in the northeast of the country, had not struck often in the capital, since security was relatively tight compared with elsewhere in the country.
But the capital has been struck by militant attacks in the past. At least 12 people were killed by car bombs at an Independence Day ceremony in Abuja in 2010. The bombs exploded near where the president and other politicians and diplomats were celebrating the country’s independence from Britain in 1960. A Nigerian group linked to discontent over poverty in the country’s oil-producing region claimed responsibility.
Less than a year later, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives outside the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, destroying several floors in a thunderous blast that left more than 20 people dead. Boko Haram was widely blamed for the blast, stunning the world and adding an international dimension to a conflict that previously had been viewed as a domestic one.