Gun battles and coordinated bomb attacks targeting security forces have spread chaos in Nigeria’s second-largest city Kano, with some 80 corpses in a morgue and bodies in the streets on Saturday.
A 24-hour curfew was also imposed on Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north and which exploded into violence on Friday evening, with eight police and immigration offices or residences targeted.
The main newspaper in Nigeria’s north reported that a purported spokesman for Islamist group Boko Haram had in a letter claimed responsibility for the violence.
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.
The police said in a statement they “are doing their best to bring the situation under control ... (we are) appealing to members of the public to come forward with information on the identity and location of these hoodlums.”
Scores of such attacks in Nigeria’s north have been blamed on Boko Haram.
Some 20 huge blasts could be heard in the city as a suicide bomber attacked a regional police office and a car bomb rocked the outside of state police headquarters after the attacker fled and was shot dead, police sources said.
A number of other police posts were targeted, including a secret police building, as well as immigration offices.
Gunshots rang out in several areas, and a local television journalist was among those shot dead as he covered the violence. At least 11 police officers were believed to be among the dead.
An AFP correspondent counted at least 80 bodies in the morgue at Kano’s main hospital, many of them with gunshot wounds. The toll was thought to be higher.
“We are still going around collecting corpses. We have nine but there are more, I don’t know how many yet,” a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency in Kano told Reuters.
“They are mostly police officers ... some died from injuries from explosions, some gunshot wounds.”
Details began to emerge of the attacks, which were said to include at least two suicide bombers.
At state police headquarters, a would-be suicide bomber sought to join the convoy of the police commissioner, the police source said, but jumped out of the car and sought to escape when officers opened fire. He was shot dead, the source said.
The shocking attacks in Kano, which had escaped the worst of the violence blamed on Boko Haram in recent months, left residents fleeing neighborhoods and fearing what would come next.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on December 31 in parts of four states hard hit by attacks blamed on Boko Haram.
Kano was not included. Most of the recent major attacks have taken place in the country’s northeast.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
The state of emergency has not stopped attacks, and the areas targeted have spread beyond the locations covered by the decree.
Boko Haram became active around 2003 in the northeast corner state Borno but its attacks have spread into other northern states, including Yobe, Kano, Bauchi and Gombe.
Boko Haram, a Hausa term meaning “Western education is sinful”, is loosely modeled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
The sect originally said it wanted sharia, Islamic law, to be applied more widely across Africa’s most populous nation but its aims appear to have changed. Recent messages from its leaders have said it is attacking anyone who opposes it; at present mainly police, government and Christian groups.
The African Union on Saturday condemned the latest “terrorist” attacks in Kano.
“The chairperson of the commission of the African Union, Jean Ping, condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks in Kano ... (Ping) expresses AU’s condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those wounded a speedy recovery.”
The limitations of the Nigerian authorities were recently highlighted when the alleged mastermind of a Christmas Day attack outside a church that killed 44 people escaped police custody in suspicious circumstances.
Police arrested him on Tuesday and he escaped when their vehicle came under fire as they were taking him from police headquarters to his house in Abaji, just outside Abuja, to conduct a search there.
Attacks specifically targeting Christians have also given rise to fears of a wider religious conflict in the country, with Christian leaders warning they would defend themselves. Some have even evoked the possibility of civil war.
However, attacks blamed on Boko Haram have included a wide range of targets, including Muslims.
The group also claimed responsibility for the August suicide bombing of U.N. headquarters in the capital Abuja that killed 25 people.