KANO, Nigeria – A militant Islamist group whose almost daily attacks have put Nigerians on edge left the country stunned Saturday in the wake of a well-coordinated strike with disturbing echoes of al-Qaida’s brand of mayhem.
More than 150 people were killed in the Friday evening carnage in the northern city of Kano. The group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attacks, whose targets included the secret service headquarters, an immigration office and a passport office.
It was the group’s most deadly strike, dwarfing previous death tolls.
Boko Haram, which wants to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, on Nigeria’s 160 million people, killed more than 500 people in almost daily attacks last year. Before Friday’s violence, it had killed more than 70 people this year.
U.S. officials have expressed fear that the group, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege,” may be getting support and training from al-Qaida affiliates on the continent, given the increasing sophistication of its attacks and growing use of suicide bombers.
Nigeria is divided between the mainly Muslim north and the oil-rich, mainly Christian south. In addition to terror attacks in the north, it has been plagued for years by sectarian killings, particularly in central Nigeria, and violent insurgencies, oil theft and piracy in the southern Niger Delta.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s glacial response to Friday’s attacks fueled criticism over his failure to act decisively to prevent such violence.
In a statement Saturday, the president condemned the attacks and promised to find and prosecute the insurgents.
“These are honest and patriotic Nigerians who were brutally and recklessly cut down by agents of terror. As a responsible government, we will not fold our hands and watch enemies of democracy, for that is what these mindless killers are, perpetrate unprecedented evil in our land,” the statement said. “I want to reassure Nigerians … that all those involved in that dastardly act will be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city, 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.