Nigeria tense after Islamists kill at least 178

A spokesman for the Islamist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for Friday's attacks in the northern Nigeria city of Kano. 

One of Kano's roads after the imposition of a curfew following the blasts.

Nigeria’s second-largest city was on alert Sunday as the death toll continued to climb from a series of coordinated bombings and shootings in Kano Friday night.

A spokesman for a militant Islamist group known as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for what was one of the most violent attacks attributed to the group yet. A doctor in Kano’s main hospital said the number of dead had reached 178 and could go higher, reports Reuters. The group is stepping up its attacks, and the Nigerian government appears unable to put an end to the violence. 

Nigeria’s president declared a state of emergency in four states on Dec. 31, after Boko Haram bombed churches on Christmas day, killing 44 people. The group also carried out an attack on the United Nations headquarters in in Nigeria August that killed 24 people. Most of its attacks have taken place in Nigeria’s northeast. Kano is a northern city.

The country, which is the most populous nation in Africa, is predominantly Muslim in the north, where poverty is more widespread, and mostly Christian in the south. The geographic split by religion has been a point of tension in the past, something Boko Haram appears bent on exploiting in its bid to undermine the government. 

The group was founded in 2002 by Islamic preacher Mohammed Yusuf. As the Monitor reported, it is focused on resistance to the Nigerian government, and “what many northern Nigerians see as the dominant role that Christian Nigerians play in Nigerian politics.” Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sin,” is an unofficial name for the group referring to its belief that Western influences corrupt traditional Islamic societies. The group’s official name is Jama’atul Ahlu Sunna Lidda’Awati wal Jihad, or the People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad.

Security forces manned roadblocks around Kano Sunday, reports The Associated Press. A 24-hour curfew was reduced to night-time hours but streets were deserted as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was expected to visit the city in the wake of the deadly attacks.

The violence began Friday evening, when at least 20 explosions targeted eight buildings, including a police headquarters, immigration offices, state security headquarters, and a passport office. CNN reports that militants entered a police station and freed detainees before bombing it. After the bombings, attackers drove through the city in a car and on motorcycles, shooting.  

The Wall Street Journal reports that a spokesman for the group said it had freed some of its members who had been held without trial. A spokesman for the group told Nigerian newspaper the Daily Trust that the attacks were in response to “the refusal of the Kano state government to release some of their members who had been arrested in the state.”

Last week, the group’s alleged mastermind of a deadly Christmas day bombing targeting a church escaped police custody during a prison transfer.

Meanwhile, nine people from a Christian ethnic group were also killed early Sunday morning in the town of Tafawa Balewa in apparent religious violence, reports The Daily Telegraph. A traditional elder of a Christian ethnic group told the paper that witnesses blamed the attack on a Muslim ethnic group.

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