Two female suicide bombers killed at least 24 worshippers in an attack during dawn prayers Wednesday on a mosque on the outskirts of the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, officials said from the birthplace of Boko Haram.
The attack happened at about 5:30 a.m. (0430 GMT) in the Molai district of the city, which has been repeatedly targeted in the past by Boko Haram insurgents.
Borno State Emergency Management Agency spokesman Abdullahi Omar told AFP: ?There was an explosion in the mosque in Molai on the outskirts of the city.
?We?re waiting for our response team to be back and then give us the details before we can issue any statement.?
But a source at the agency added: ?This morning just before prayers two women disguised as men came by the mosque.
?One of them went in and joined the first row of the congregation and when the worshippers stood up for the prayers she detonated her explosives, killing several worshippers.
?While the others were trying to flee, the second woman who stood outside the mosque rushed in and set off her explosives in their midst.
?Rescue is still ongoing but so far 24 people have been confirmed dead and 35 others injured.?
One bomber blew up inside the mosque and the second waited outside to detonate as survivors tried to escape, said coordinator Abba Aji of the civilian self-defense Vigilante Group.
At least 18 people were wounded and evacuated to the hospital, said army spokesman Col. Sani Usman.
Umar Usman said he escaped because he was late. ?We were just a few meters away from the mosque when a loud bang erupted and all we could see was dark smoke and bodies littered around,? he told The Associated Press.
Rescuers were still searching for bodies or survivors. A hospital official said 13 bodies already have been claimed for the speedy burials required by Muslim tradition.
The mosque is in Umarari on the outskirts of the city that is the military command center of the war against Boko Haram Islamic insurgents. Reports that Umarari is a Boko Haram stronghold were incorrect, officials said.
Several suicide bombers have exploded in recent months at roadblocks leading into the city, indicating success in preventing attackers from reaching crowded areas.
It is the first attack on Maiduguri since Dec. 28, when rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers killed 50 people including refugees from the war.
The military said dozens of emaciated extremists surrendered this month, indicating success in cutting supply routes, including from neighboring countries to which the insurgency has spread.
Nigeria?s President Muhammadu Buhari has claimed that the military has forced Boko Haram out of all towns. But the general in charge of US Africa Command said they still hold ?significant? territory and northeastern officials said that includes three border towns.
The source, who asked for anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to the media, said survivors of the attack and evidence from the rescue operation identified the bombers as women.
The attack bore all the hallmarks of Boko Haram Islamists, who have regularly hit ?soft? civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations, including with female suicide bombers.
Maiduguri, where the group was formed in 2002, has been relatively calm in recent months as a result of heavy security and a sustained counter-offensive against the militants last year.
Nigeria has said the rebels, whose insurgency has left at least 17,000 dead since 2009, have been ?technically? defeated, despite continued attacks in Borno state and neighboring Cameroon.
On January 31, at least 85 people were killed when insurgents attacked the village of Dalori, some 12 kilometers (seven miles) from Maiduguri.
The city itself was last attacked on November 22 last year when a female suicide bomber blew herself up among a crowd of women and children seeking sanctuary from the rural town of Dikwa.
Eight people were killed.