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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Four women suicide bombers blew themselves up early Friday when challenged by soldiers as they tried to enter a city in northeastern Nigeria, killing at least 18 people and themselves.

Maiduguri, a city that was the birthplace of Boko Haram and is now the home base of government forces trying to crush the Islamic extremists, has been hit by a series of bombings, exacting a terrible toll among civilians.

The attack on Friday — described by civilian defense fighters, the National Emergency Management Agency and witnesses — came just hours after two bombs exploded near a mosque here, killing at least 30 people.

The wounded from that attack were taken to a hospital. One patient lay on a stained, bare mattress, head wrapped in bandages, as anxious women peered through a window from outside.

Twenty people were wounded in that attack, some critically, said the emergency agency’s northeast Nigeria coordinator, Muhammed Kanar.

The military and troops from neighboring countries have pushed the extremists from strongholds this year but the suicide bomb attacks by Boko Haram have continued.

Nigeria’s army chief indicated a major offensive is imminent. An offensive by a multinational force with troops from Nigeria and its neighbors has been long delayed by funding issues and other disputes.

Boko Haram wants to enforce extreme interpretation of Islamic law across Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer with a population of about 170 million split almost equally between Christians and Muslims.