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Jul 23, 5:22 PM EDT

2 bombs kill at least 39, targeted political and religious leaders in Kaduna, in north Nigeria


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KADUNA, Nigeria (AP) -- Bomb blasts appearing to target former Nigerian military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and a prominent moderate Muslim cleric killed dozens of people Wednesday, but left both leaders unharmed, according to Nigerian state security.

At least 39 other people were killed in the two blasts, said State Police Commissioner Umar Usman Shehu. The death toll is expected to rise, as witnesses at both bomb sites said dozens of people were killed in each of the blasts.

The bombings were condemned by President Goodluck Jonathan who said he "denounces the dastardly targeting of the prominent political and religious leaders by terrorists and enemies of the nation in an odious attempt to inflame passions and exacerbate disquiet, fear, insecurity and sectional divisions in the country."

After surviving the marketplace bombing, Buhari said the attack "clearly an assassination attempt, came from a fast moving vehicle that made many attempts to overtake my security car. I came out unhurt, but with three of my security staff sustaining minor injuries."

Buhari is currently a leader of Nigeria's leading opposition party who has been outspokenly critical of President Jonathan. He is not yet a candidate for president as no contenders have been formally declared ahead of 2015 elections.

The other bombing appeared to target Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, who gave an annual Ramadan speech to thousands of faithful in an outdoor service. Bauchi is known for preaching against the violent extremism of Nigeria's Islamic militants, Boko Haram.

"They were waiting for him," said police commissioner Shehu of the boy who threw a bomb at the sheik. "It's when he was passing the boy headed to him."

The cleric survived the blast but the boy was killed, said the police commissioner, who added that no arrests were made immediately.

The second blast, which hit the Kaduna marketplace where Buhari was about two and a half hours after the first explosion, left bodies and body parts scattered, said witnesses. More than 50 vehicles were destroyed, the witnesses said.

A 24-hour curfew was declared by Kaduna state governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero immediately after Wednesday's bombings, leaving many people stranded at their jobs, unable to go home for the night.

The governor did not directly blame Boko Haram but called the attackers a "common enemy" who are not true Muslims.

"Enemies of peace have visited us with their ungodly venom of wanton destruction of human lives," said Yero in a statement. "This blast, coming in the holy month of Ramadan is a clear indication that those behind the act have no iota of fear of God."

The U.S. State Department in a statement said the U.S. "deplores" the twin bombings and urges all Nigerians to avoid revenge attacks.

Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in five years of insurgency in Nigeria, including several prominent sheiks and politicians.

Kaduna is outside the region of Nigeria that is under emergency rule but it has been frequently targeted for violence by Boko Haram militants. In recent months, the Boko Haram insurgency has intensified, with near-daily attacks in the north, three bombings in the capital, Abuja, and more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped and held captive now for 100 days.

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Murdock reported from Abuja, Nigeria.

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