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Blasts at market kill 118 in central Nigeria, official says

From Aminu Abubakar and Hassan John, for CNN
May 21, 2014 -- Updated 0645 GMT (1445 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Twin explosions strike a market in the city of Jos
  • "Terrorists usually want to cause fear and trepidation," says one official
  • Another official warns the death toll could go higher

(CNN) -- At least 118 people were killed Tuesday in twin blasts at a market in the central Nigerian city of Jos, an official said, warning the toll could climb.

The explosions, which targeted Terminus market, went off some 20 to 30 minutes apart, setting fire to the entire venue.

"The death toll stands at 118. This is the number of victims recovered from the scene of the explosions, but we are still searching through the smoldering debris for more bodies," said Mohammed Abdulsalam, coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency in the city.

"The figure may rise when the search is over," Abdulsalam said.

A journalist on the scene of the first explosion called it "massive." People were screaming and running, some covered in blood. Some had to be carried away, the journalist said.

An ambulance driver who asked not to be identified said he saw at least 15 bodies and about 30 injured.

Plateau State Commissioner Chris Olakpe described the blasts as "terrorist activities," but refused to speculate on who might be responsible.

He said the first blast was a suicide car bomb, while the second was caused by an improvised explosive device in a separate car.

Olakpe said 46 people were killed in the blasts and that 45 were injured, disputing the higher death toll provided by Abdulsalam.

It is not uncommon for authorities to report conflicting death tolls in the immediate aftermath of attacks.

"Terrorists usually want to cause fear and trepidation," said Olakpe. "By tomorrow, we will get on top of the matter."

In a statement, President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the bombings as a "tragic assault on human freedom" and described those behind them as "cruel and evil."

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Map: Jos, NigeriaMap: Jos, Nigeria

"President Jonathan assures all Nigerians that government remains fully committed to winning the war against terror, and this administration will not be cowed by the atrocities of enemies of human progress and civilization," the statement said, adding that Nigeria was committed to implementing anti-terrorism measures and resolutions put forth at a recent summit in Paris.

When CNN tried to speak with a nurse at a local hospital by phone, she was unable to hear because of victims' cries and screams.

CNN had previously reported three blasts at two markets -- Terminus and Abuja. Terminus market is also known as the New Abuja market. A possible third blast may have been a gas canister ignited by the first bomb.

Late Sunday, a bomb in the northern Nigerian city of Kano killed at least four people, according to local police.

The blast occurred at a busy intersection in a predominantly Christian area of the city and left several cars burning, Kano police spokesman Rabilu Ringim said. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, the spokesman said.

Terrorism in Nigeria has been in the spotlight recently since more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram.

The terror group abducted 276 girls on April 14 from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Dozens escaped, but more than 200 girls are still missing.

In his statement Tuesday, Jonathan reaffirmed his government's commitment to take "every necessary measure" to find the girls and cooperate with other countries in the region to combat the "Boko Haram menace."

The president also said Nigeria was determined to ensure safety and security in schools in Borno state and other parts of the country and to rebuild the school in Chibok.

The government will collaborate with U.N. education envoy, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to launch a safety program called the "Safe Schools Initiative," said presidential spokesman Reuben Abati.

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CNN's Samira Said and Karen Smith contributed to this report.

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