22 Jan 2012

More than 170 dead in Nigeria attacks

At least 178 people are now dead after a string of bomb blasts and shootings in northern Nigeria and a senior doctor in the city of Kano says that number could rise.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility on Saturday for the wave of strikes. The sect has killed hundreds in the north of Africa’s most populous nation in the last year.

“We have 178 people killed in the two main hospitals,” the senior doctor in Kano’s Murtala Mohammed hospital said following Friday’s attacks, citing records from his own and the other main hospital of Nasarawa.

“There could be more, because some bodies have not yet come in and others were collected early.”

The attacks late on Friday prompted the government to announce a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the city of more than 10 million people, the country’s second biggest.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been criticised for failing to act quickly and decisively enough against Boko Haram, said the killers would face “the full wrath of the law.”

Read more: Nigeria's Christians face a grim New Year
Smoke rises from the police headquarters as people run for safety in Nigeria's northern city of Kano (Reuters)

Kano and other northern cities have been plagued by an insurgency led by Boko Haram, which is blamed for scores of bombings and shootings. These have taken place mostly in the Muslim-dominated north of Africa’s top oil producer, whose main oil-producing facilities are located to the south.

Aimed mainly at government targets, the Boko Haram attacks have been growing in scale and sophistication.

A spokesman for Boko Haram contacted reporters in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where the sect is based, to claim responsibility for Friday’s bombings.

Copies of a letter apparently from the group were also dropped around Kano. The letter, written in the Hausa language spoken in northern Nigeria, said the attacks were retribution for police arrests and killings of members of the sect

Boko Haram became active around 2003 and is concentrated in the northern states of Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Kaduna.

Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria means “Western education is sinful”, is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

A bomb attack on a Catholic church just outside the capital Abuja on Christmas Day, claimed by group, killed 37 people and wounded 57.

‘The ground was shaking’

Witnesses said the bomber of the police headquarters, which covers most of northern Nigeria, pulled up at the building on a motorbike then got off and ran at it holding a bag.

“We tried to stop him but he ran in forcefully with his bag. All of a sudden there was a blast. You can see for yourself the building is damaged,” said a policeman at the scene.

Police said a second blast had hit Kano’s passport office and another hit Zaria Road police station in the city.

“The ground was shaking with the explosion. We saw flames and smoke at the police station,” said witness Umaru Ibrahim.

A source at the State Security Service said another bomber had tried to attack there but was gunned down before he could detonate his bomb.

Police and military roadblocks were erected in the city within minutes.

More on Nigeria