By Garba Muhammad
KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) -Aminu Sani was travelling by rail to see his newborn baby in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna on Monday night when a loud blast shook the train and gunfire followed, forcing passengers to take cover on the floor.
At least seven people were killed and several were missing after suspected bandits struck the passenger train as it headed to Kaduna from the capital Abuja, a few days after gunmen attacked an airport in the city.
It was the second such incident since October and highlights growing insecurity in Africa’s most populous nation.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but gunmen have roamed northwestern Nigeria and abducted hundreds of school children and villagers for ransom over the past five years, while killing dozens of people.
“We heard a very loud blast that shook entire coaches, which was immediately followed by sporadic gunshots from the coach at the rear of the train,” Sani told Reuters at his home in a Kaduna neighbourhood.
“Many passengers resorted to praying loudly. The shooting increased and stopped completely. All that was on my mind was my wife and my first new born baby,” the 37-year-old government employee said, as he held his days-old baby.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation temporarily suspended services on the Abuja-Kaduna route following the attack.
Another passenger and member of Kaduna’s security service told Reuters that two rail workers and five security personnel were killed when gunmen opened fire on the train.
Danjuma Usman, a 46-year-old trader from Kaduna who was on the train said the attack lasted about an hour before soldiers arrived and repelled the gunmen.
Most people were taken to safety by Tuesday morning but an unknown number were missing, while several were receiving treatment a local hospital, Kaduna’s internal security ministry said. The ministry did not comment on the death toll.
After receiving a briefing from security forces, President Muhammadu Buhari said “the attack on the train, a safe means of transport to many, is callous.”
The latest incident is a blow to travellers who have opted to travel by rail after armed gangs carried out several kidnappings on Nigerian highways.
The government normally attributes such attacks in the northwest to bandits – a loose term for gangs of outlaws carrying out robberies and kidnappings.
Security experts say Nigeria can ill afford more instability as it is already struggling to contain Islamist insurgencies in the northeast, conflict in central states and militant groups in the Niger Delta to the southeast.
(Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean)