Maiduguri - A Nigerian military fighter jet bombed the cavalcade of a prominent federal senator as he drove to the scene of an attack by suspected Islamic extremists in the country's northeast, the senator said Sunday. No one was hurt.
Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume said Saturday's bombing underscored "the seriousness of how the military endangers innocent civilians." Thousands of security forces have been deployed to northeast Nigeria under a state of emergency covering one-sixth of Africa's biggest old producer to crack down on a 4-year-old Islamic uprising.
Ndume said soldiers told him the bombing of his six-vehicle convoy - led by an army vehicle with a police van in the rear- was "an operational blunder."
Military spokesman Col. Muhammed Dole said he knew nothing of the senator's convoy being bombed, but confirmed a military operation with air support was going on around Ardoko village, 185km from Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.
Ndume was traveling to Ardoko to commiserate with constituents attacked Saturday by extremists, who killed eight civilians.
He said four bombs exploded around his convoy as he drove through the nearby village of Pulka, just 500 meters (a third of a mile) and in sight of a military checkpoint. He said villagers including children who had come out to wave at him scattered as the bombs went off and the convoy skidded off the road.
Ndume thought he was being attacked by extremists from the Boko Haram terrorist network.
Lack of evidence
"I heard a massive explosion and some other ones followed," he told a news conference in Maiduguri. "I thought it was Boko Haram that were attacking us; we even thought it was some people waving at us from the road side that detonated the bombs."
But when they returned to the military post for protection, soldiers told him the bombs came from a Nigerian Air Force plane.
"Even if it was an operational hitch, as they claimed, how could an air force pilot fire four bombs at a moving convoy being escorted by soldiers and police on a federal highway without bothering to check with the ground forces?" Ndume asked.
Soldiers at the checkpoint tried to communicate with the pilot after the bombing, but failed, he said.
Ndume was arrested in 2012 on allegations from a captured suspected Islamic militant that he was financing terrorist operations. He was subsequently released, apparently for lack of evidence.
Rumors have long circulated in Nigeria that Boko Haram has received backing from political sponsors in Nigeria, a country where politicians often arm militants to rig elections and otherwise support political aspirations. President Goodluck Jonathan himself has said that the sect has infiltrated all levels of government, including the armed forces and security agencies.