Nairobi/Abuja: At least 15 people died on Friday in twin car bomb blasts in the Nigerian capital Abuja as the West African nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain, witnesses said.
In an e-mail alert, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) earlier said it had planted bombs and gave people 30 minutes to begin evacuating Eagle Square in Abuja, where President Goodluck Jonathan was attending a celebration.
"I heard two loud explosions at short intervals, and I later saw at least 15 bodies being taken away in ambulances while other bodies were still lying there," a witness told DPA.
A senior policeman was believed to be among the dead, although the national police spokesman could not be reached by phone to confirm the death toll.
Another witness said security had cordoned off the scene of the explosion, which took place just outside the square, while the event continued as planned.
Over a thousand schoolchildren performed a colourful calisthenics display while charred corpses were being removed a few hundred metres away.
"Several explosive devices have been successfully planted in and around the venue by our operatives working inside the government security services," MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo had said in the e-mail warning.
"There is nothing worth celebrating after 50 years of failure," he added. "For 50 years, the people of the Niger Delta have had their land and resources stolen from them."
A previous attack by the group in March saw two car bombs detonate outside peace talks aimed at ending years of unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta. Nobody was injured in that bombing.
MEND drastically cut Nigeria's oil output through years of sabotage of oil facilities in the Niger Delta, saying it was fighting for a more equitable share of resources for indigenous peoples.
A government amnesty last year saw many militants hand in their arms, leading to a huge decrease in militant activity in the area.