By Aminu ABUBAKAR

At least seven people were killed in an attack on a major Nigerian railway line after gunmen detonated a bomb on the track and opened fire on a halted train, hospital sources and officials said on Tuesday.

The Monday night attack on a train linking the capital Abuja with the northwest city of Kaduna was another escalation in the growing violence in the region by criminal gangs known locally as bandits.

Around 970 passengers were onboard the train when gunmen blew up the tracks and started shooting into the coaches before the army arrived to repel them, a security source said.

“Passengers who sustained injuries, and the fatalities, have been moved to hospitals,” Kaduna State security commissioner Samuel Aruwan said in a statement, without giving further details.

Two medical sources at Kaduna’s 44 Army Reference Hospital said seven bodies of those killed in the attack were at the hospital along with 22 wounded people.

A train security guard also told AFP that seven people had been killed, including two cleaners on the train.

Kaduna State Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai visited some of the wounded at the hospital where he also lamented the casualties from the incident, according to statement that gave no death toll.

Passengers were evacuated by the armed forces but Aruwan said search and rescue operations were continuing, suggesting some people were still missing.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation said services on the Abuja-Kaduna route had been “temporarily suspended”.

Two days earlier, gunmen killed a perimeter security guard in an attack at Kaduna airport before armed forces intervened.

Gunmen also attacked the same railway line with explosives in October.

Bandit gangs in the northwest and central Nigerian states have long terrorised communities, conducting mass kidnappings for ransom, raiding villages and stealing cattle.

But their violence has intensified. Gunmen often arrive in their scores by motorbike, sometimes striking several villages, killing and abducting residents.

Gunmen have also targeted highways for kidnappings between the capital and cities such as Kaduna and the northwestern commercial hub Kano.

Nigeria’s military has been carrying out operations and air strikes to clear bandits out of their camps hidden in forests that straddle several states in the northwest.

Security forces are also battling a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has killed 40,000 people and displaced more than two million more./pvh

abu/pma

© Agence France-Presse