REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Nigeria's troubled north, already plagued by a rash of terrorist bombings and drive-by killings during the last year, faced a new attack Friday: multiple bombings in Kano, the region's largest city. Fighting between gunmen and security forces was also reported.
A suicide bomber struck police headquarters, causing extensive damage, authorities said. Other bombs hit the city's immigration office. Nigerian media reported another police station had been bombed. The number of casualties was not known. There were conflicting reports on the number of bombs, with accounts of between four and 20 blasts
The simultaneous bombings were typical of previous attacks by Boko Haram, which claimed responsibility for the violence Friday evening, according to a local radio station.
Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north has for several years faced attacks by the militant group, which opposes the government and secular education and seeks to establish Sharia law across the country, divided between the Muslim north and mainly Christian south.
The group's attacks have grown in sophistication and scale this last year, a period in which it has launched several major suicide bombings, including ones on the police headquarters and a U.N. compound in the capital Abuja. The U.N. attack resulted in two dozen deaths.
More than 500 people were killed last year and dozens more since New Year's.
Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper reported fighting between police and the attackers at the immigration office in Kano, the country's second largest city after Lagos.
The violence fuels the pressure on Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is struggling to contain militants in the north as well as sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims. He recently backed down after bungling a key reform to the oil sector, ditching an $8-billion oil subsidy, after a weeklong strike and street protests dubbed "Occupy Nigeria." (He announced Monday the subsidy would be partially restored).
Jonathan last year declared a state of emergency in several areas of the north that were hardest hit by the terror attack; however, he did not include Kano, which had largely escaped the violence.
Reuters cited witnesses at Kano police headquarters saying the suicide bomber dismounted from a motorcycle before running into the building holding a bag which then exploded.
"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," a policeman at scene said, according to Reuters.
U.S. officials have expressed fears that Boko Haram iis linked with Al Qaeda affiliates in Africa.
In a 15-minute video released just over a week ago, a Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, flanked by two AK-47s said the group was at war with Christians. He said the Nigerian security forces couldn't defeat the group.
"People are talking about us, that we are a disease, a cancer, to people in Nigeria. But we are not cancer and we are not a disease," said Shekau in the video, speaking in Hausa. "And we are not wicked people with a bad habit. If people do not know us, Allah knows us."
-- Robyn Dixon