Yaoundé (AFP) – A suicide bomber killed 12 worshippers Wednesday at a mosque in northern Cameroon, an area regularly targeted by Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists, officials said.
The blast struck the mosque in the village of Kouyape, in Kolofata district north near the Nigerian border, at around 5:30 am (0430 GMT) during morning prayers, a security source said.
“The provisional toll is 13 dead (including the suicide bomber) and one person who was seriously injured. The mosque was virtually reduced to ashes,” said Midjiyawa Bakari, the governor of the region.
Bakari asked locals “not to let down your guard” following “these barbaric, cowardly and nebulous acts.”
Since July last year Cameroon’s far north has been hit by a series of attacks blamed on Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
“Eleven worshippers were killed at the scene. A twelfth died of their wounds in hospital,” the security source said, adding that the attacker was praying alongside other worshippers when he blew himself up.
The imam of the mosque figured among the victims, another security source said.
The bombing came after two people were killed overnight in the same area in another attack blamed on Boko Haram, the security source said.
Cameroon has beefed up its military presence along the Nigerian border as part of a regional coalition, after years of doing little to stop Boko Haram fighters using its territory as a rear base to arm and equip themselves.
Since late November the Cameroon army has carried out operations in several border areas aimed at weakening Nigerian jihadists active in the region.
Sources say the operations have significantly weakened Boko Haram’s capability, forcing insurgents to turn away from direct confrontation with the military in favour of suicide attacks, increasingly staged by women and girls.
Boko Haram in the past year stepped up cross-border attacks in Niger, Chad and Cameroon while continuing shooting and suicide assaults on markets, mosques and other mostly civilian targets within Nigeria itself.
The group has increasingly targeted imams and traditional chiefs for their opposition to the Islamists.
Cameroon has meanwhile banned the Islamic veil in a bid to pre-empt suicide bombings staged by attackers wearing the full-face veil.
Boko Haram’s six-year campaign for a hardline Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has killed at least 17,000 people and made more than 2.6 million others homeless.
Despite the offensives launched by regional forces, the group maintains strongholds in areas that are difficult to access, such as the Sambisa forest, the Mandara mountains and the numerous islands of Lake Chad.