Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Alexander Smith

Two young children were strapped with explosives and used as suicide bombers near a crowded market in northeast Nigeria, officials said Monday.

The kids — estimated to be younger than 10 years old — were blown up in the city of Maiduguri, Manzo Ezekiel, spokesman for Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency, told NBC News.

One other person was killed and 17 more injured in Sunday's blast, Ezekiel said.

He added that the children involved were one boy and one girl although local media reported they were both girls.

The death toll could have been much higher had the children been able to enter the busy market itself, Ezekiel said, adding that ISIS-affiliated terror group Boko Haram was responsible for the blasts.

"This is the cowardly act of a dying fighter," he said. "A good fighter would come out himself and fight, but the use of children is cowardly ... They are using people who are vulnerable to attack soft targets."

The militant group is the most prominent in the region and has carried out thousands of similar attacks in the past — including some using children — but it has not yet to claim responsibility for Sunday's attack.

Some 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed during Boko Haram's seven-year campaign of violence. A UNICEF report published in August said 44 children were forced to be suicide bombers by Boko Haram last year, including some as young as eight.

Maiduguri is in northeast Nigeria.Google Maps

Over the past year, Boko Haram has resorted to insurgent-style tactics after a government military campaign recaptured much of the territory the group had seized in northeast Nigeria. There has also been an apparent split in the group.

Another suicide attack in the town of Madagail, around 70 miles southeast of Maiduguri, killed at least 57 people Sunday.