Two female suicide bombers killed at least 24 worshippers and wounded 23 in an attack during dawn prayers Wednesday on a mosque on the outskirts of the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri, officials said from the birthplace of Boko Haram.
One bomber blew up inside the mosque and the second waited outside to detonate as survivors tried to escape, said coordinator Abba Aji of the civilian self-defense Vigilante Group.
The toll rose when rescuers digging through rubble discovered five more injured people and recovered four more bodies, including the bombers, according to emergency official Mohammed Chullu.
Umar Usman said he escaped because he was late to worship. "We were just a few meters away from the mosque when a loud bang erupted and all we could see was dark smoke and bodies littered around," he told The Associated Press.
A hospital official said 13 bodies already have been claimed for the speedy burials required by Muslim tradition.
The Umarari mosque is on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the city that is the military command center of the war against Boko Haram Islamic insurgents. Reports that Umarari is a Boko Haram stronghold were incorrect, officials said.
Several suicide bombers have exploded in recent months at roadblocks leading into the city, indicating success in preventing attackers from reaching crowded areas.
It is the first attack on Maiduguri since Dec. 28, when rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers killed 50 people including refugees from the war.
The attack comes just days after at least 76 of the emaciated extremists surrendered this month, indicating success in cutting supply routes, including from neighboring countries to which the insurgency has spread.
The detainees said many more fighters want to surrender, a self-defense civilian fighter who helped escort them to Maiduguri told The Associated Press.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has claimed that the military has forced Boko Haram out of all towns. But the general in charge of the U.S. Africa Command said they still hold "significant" territory and northeastern officials said that includes three border towns.
In the 10 months since he took office promising to halt the insurgency, President Buhari has replaced the leadership of the military, moved the headquarters for the fight from the distant capital, Abuja, to the heart of the northeastern insurgency and resupplied soldiers.
The military has driven the insurgents from the towns and villages where they had set up an Islamic caliphate but Boko Haram has returned to hit-and-run tactics and suicide bombings.