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At least 10 people were killed on Saturday when a bomb exploded in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, witnesses said, where the Islamist sect Boko Haram is pursuing a bloody insurgency.

Boko Haram, whose fight for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria has killed thousands and made the group the biggest threat to security in Africa's top oil producer, is increasingly targeting the civilian population.

The bomb went off at around 6 p.m. in a busy market area in Ajilari-Gomari near the city's airport, two witnesses and a police source said.

"Many men, women and children died. The fire service are on the ground now and they are bringing corpses of people and trying to put out the fire at the scene," Local resident Ismaila Abdulraman told Reuters by telephone, adding that he had seen at least 10 bodies.

The final death toll was likely to be higher because dozens of people were trapped in the rubble, the witnesses said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, but Boko Haram only communicates occasionally through Internet videos, days or weeks after attacks.

Western governments are concerned about Nigerian groups such as Boko Haram linking up with al Qaeda-linked cells in other countries in the Sahel region, such as Mali.

— Reuters