By Joe Hemba
DAMATURU Nigeria (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 7 people outside a commercial bank in a northeast Nigerian town on Friday, the latest suspected attack by Islamist Boko Haram insurgents, police and local residents said.
The blast occurred at an ATM point of a branch of the First Bank of Nigeria in Azare in Bauchi state, an area that has suffered previous attacks by the Islamist militants who appear to be ignoring a ceasefire deal announced by the government last month.
"We can confirm that one of our branches in Azare was attacked by suspected insurgents, specifically the ATM point," Babatunde Lasaki, First Bank's head of media and external relations, told Reuters by phone from the bank's HQ in Lagos.
Local police said they believed a female suicide bomber carried out the attack, and four other suspects were arrested.
Police confirmed seven dead at the scene, with 10 people taken to hospital. An employee of another nearby bank in Azare said at least 13 people died as a result of the blast.
Lasaki said none of First Bank's staff at the Azare branch, which is on the main road to Kano, were among the victims.
Banks have been among the locations attacked by Boko Haram, which has killed thousands, mostly in the northeast, in its campaign to establish an Islamic enclave in northern Nigeria.
The group, whose name means "Western education is sinful" in the local Hausa language and whose targets include schools, is described by the government as the biggest threat to security in Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy and leading oil producer.
On Oct 22, a bomb exploded at a bus station in Azare, killing at least five people and wounding 12.
On Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least 30 people in a procession of Shi'ite Muslims marking the ritual of Ashoura at Potiskum in neighbouring Yobe state.
Nigeria's government announced last month that a ceasefire had been agreed with Boko Haram and that talks were under way in neighbouring Chad for the release of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April by the Islamist rebels.
But although mediator Chad has said the negotiations are still on, a series of recent attacks across Nigeria's northeast by suspected Boko Haram fighters has raised serious doubts about whether a lasting peace pact can be achieved.
Prospects for this took another hit at the end of last month when a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video recording the kidnapped girls were "married off" to his fighters, contradicting Nigerian government statements that they would soon be freed.
Nigeria's military says it killed Shekau a year ago, and authorities said in September they had killed an impostor posing as him in videos.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking a second term in elections in February, has faced rising criticism at home and abroad for failing to halt the Boko Haram insurgency or obtain the release of the schoolgirls.