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Death toll rises to more than 150 in attacks in Nigerian city

January 21, 2012 | 12:37 pm

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The death toll in a wave of bomb attacks in the northern Nigerian city of Kano reached more than 150 on Saturday, with one report putting the number of dead at 162, most of them police officers.

Suicide bombers and gunmen from the northern Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which U.S. officials fear has links with Al Qaeda, attacked several police stations and other government buildings Friday evening. Targets in the well-coordinated attack included the secret service headquarters, immigration office and passport office.

MAP: Kano, Nigeria

The Kano government imposed a 24-hour curfew after the attack.

A spokesman for Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks. The group opposes the Nigerian government and secular education and wants to impose Islamic law across Nigeria, including the mainly Christian south.

The attack was in revenge for recent arrests of Boko Haram members. During the attacks, gunmen reportedly freed other members of the sect in police custody.

With more fatalities than any previous Boko Haram operation, Friday's attacks increase the pressure for a resolution of the crisis on President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian whose election last year triggered violent protests in the mainly Muslim north. Jonathan last year imposed a state of emergency in several areas of the north.

Friday's attacks come on the heels of an embarrassing escape from custody by a Boko Haram militant, Kabiru Umar, who was accused of leading a bomb attack on a Catholic church in northern Niger state, which killed 44 people.

The government has launched an investigation to find out how he escaped; however, Jonathan has said Boko Haram has infiltrated the security services.

Nigeria has been plagued for years by sectarian killings, particularly in the central Plateau state, the crossroads of the north and south.

Boko Haram killed more than 500 people in attacks last year, including a suicide bombing of the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Abuja, which killed two dozen people. Before Friday's violence, it had killed more than 70 people in attacks this year.

The group appeared almost wiped out after coordinated police operations in Maiduguri and several other northern cities in 2010. The group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in custody, and dozens of Boko Haram fighters were killed in battles.

But the group went underground and continued recruiting.

Kano, a sprawling city of 10 million people, is honeycombed with narrow alleys with open gutters. Unemployment is high, particularly among youth, and the northern region has long felt alienated and marginalized by southern politicians.


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Photo: A rescue worker inspects the burnt-out wreckage of cars and motorcycles destroyed by multiple explosions and armed assailants in the northern Nigerian city of Kano on Saturday. Credit: Aminu Abubakar / AFP/Getty Images