A bomb blast in the northeastern Nigerian city of Gombe on Monday hit outside a stadium where President Goodluck Jonathan had just finished a speech at an election rally, underscoring the country’s fraught security situation ahead of national elections in two weeks.
Two female suicide bombers were suspected of being behind the attack that left at least the two perpetrators dead and another 18 wounded, according to the Agence France-Presse.
"We have evacuated two bodies of females we believe were suicide bombers behind the blast," said a rescue worker, a comment backed by a medical source at Gombe State Specialist Hospital.
President Jonathan, who had been addressing supporters of his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had just left the venue when the blast happened in an adjacent parking lot.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although suspicion has fallen on Boko Haram — the armed group has attacked Gombe several times and is waging a full-fledged insurrection against the government. Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” wants to carve out a state in Nigeria’s northeast based on its own interpretation of Islam.
It has in the last year stepped up its violent campaign that has increasingly targeted major population centers with large-scale bombings. The group has killed thousands of people, many of them civilians, and kidnapped hundreds more.
Monday’s blast came a day after two explosions in the same city, also blamed on Boko Haram fighters. Sunday's attacks left at least five people dead in a weekend of deadly violence that also saw the Boko Haram fighters attack the key city of Maiduguri for the second time in a week.
Nigerian troops, aided by armed civilians, repelled the attack while Chad and Cameroon bombed the Boko Haram-held town of Gamboru, on the eastern fringe of Borno State.
Security analysts believe Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, will likely be hit again before polling day, because it would undermine the Feb.14 vote. Boko Haram is in control of most of Borno and has effectively surrounded Maiduguri, which is seen as one of the few places left in the state where voting could feasibly still take place.
Turnout could be affected if large numbers of people, may of them displaced by six years of violence, desert the city, which with other areas in the northeast is a main opposition stronghold. The electoral commission is struggling with logistics to enable more than a million internally displaced people to vote.
The election is expected to be the closest since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999, with the prospect of the PDP being dumped out of power for the first time in 16 years.
President Jonathan, a Christian from the south, faces challenger Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim and former military ruler of the country, in an atmosphere of heightened regional, ethnic and sectarian tensions that many fear could to boil over into widespread violence.
Buhari’s last bid for the presidency — his fourth— ended in defeat to Jonathan in 2011. But he now enjoys much broader support.
As head of the military government between 1983 and 1985, after the military took over in a coup, Buhari was seen as tough on corruption and in his dealings with rebellions and armed criminals.
Buhari has said he would first tackle the Boko Haram insurgency before addressing other issues like education and corruption.
Al Jazeera and wire services