Co-ordinated attacks claimed by a radical Islamist sect killed at least 143 people in north Nigeria's largest city, a hospital official said today, as gunfire still echoed around some areas of the sprawling city.
Soldiers and police officers swarmed the streets in Kano, a city of more than nine million people that remains an important political and religious hub in Nigeria's Muslim north. But their effectiveness remains in question, as the uniformed bodies of many of their colleagues lay in the overflowing mortuary of Murtala Muhammed Specialist Hospital, Kano's largest hospital.
A hospital official there said at least 143 people died in the attacks on Friday. The count included some bodies already claimed by families for immediate burial as per Islamic law.
Other bodies could be lying at other clinics and hospitals in the city.
In a statement issued late Friday, federal police spokesman Olusola Amore said attackers targeted five police buildings, two immigration offices and the local headquarters of the State Security Service, Nigeria's secret police.
Nwakpa O. Nwakpa, a spokesman for the Nigerian Red Cross, said volunteers offered first aid to the wounded, and evacuated those seriously injured to local hospitals. He said officials continued to collect corpses scattered around sites of the attacks. A survey of two hospitals by the Red Cross showed at least 50 people were injured in Friday's attack, he said.
State authorities declared a 24-hour curfew late Friday as residents hid inside their homes amid the fighting.
A Boko Haram spokesman using the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks in a message to journalists. He said the attack came as the state government refused to release Boko Haram members held by the police.
Boko Haram has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is responsible for at least 510 killings last year alone. So far this year, the group has been blamed for at least 219 killings.
The sect's targets have included both Muslims and Christians. However, the group has begun specifically targeting Christians after promising it will kill any Christians living in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. That has further inflamed religious and ethnic tensions in Nigeria, which has seen ethnic violence kill thousands in recent years along the divide between the north and the largely Christian south.
Friday's attacks also could cause more unrest, as violence in Kano has set off attacks throughout the north in the past, including postelection violence in April that saw 800 people killed. Kano, an ancient city, remains important in the history of Islam in Nigeria and has important religious figures there today.