AT least 120 people were killed and 270 injured in a co-ordinated triple bomb attack on a mosque in Nigeria yesterday.
Relief agencies warned the number of dead and injured could rise after the blasts, thought to be the work of Islamist Boko Haram militants.
Gunmen set off three bombs and then fired on worshippers gathered for Friday prayers at the biggest mosque in Nigeria’s second-largest city, Kano.
The mosque is adjacent to the palace of the Emir of Kano, an influential Muslim leader, who usually leads prayers.
The emir, also known as Muhammad Sanusi II, last week called for people to arm themselves against Boko Haram. He was not present at the time of yesterday’s attack.
One eyewitness said: “The imam was about to start prayer when he saw somebody in a car trying to force himself into the mosque. But when people stopped him, he detonated the explosions. People started running helter-skelter.”
One worshipper, Aminu Abdullahi, said: “Two bombs exploded, one after the other, in the premises of the Grand Mosque seconds after the prayers had started.” He said the third blast happened on a nearby road.
A security source, who did not want to be named, said: “Three bombs were planted in the courtyard of the mosque and they went off simultaneously.”
A staff member at the palace who witnessed the attack said: “After multiple explosions, they also opened fire. I cannot tell you the casualties because we all ran away.”
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Angry youths later blocked the mosque’s gates to police, who had to disperse them with tear gas to gain access.
Hundreds of youths rioted in the streets, throwing stones, brandishing sticks and shouting at security officials.
No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but suspicion has fallen on Boko Haram, the Sunni jihadist movement fighting to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram regards the traditional Islamic religious authorities in Nigeria with disdain, considering them a corrupt, self-serving elite that is too close to the secular government.
It has repeatedly attacked Kano, including on 14 November when a suicide bomb attack at a petrol station killed six people, including three police officers.
Islamic leaders have been reticent about directly criticising Boko Haram, fearing reprisals.
However, Emir Sanusi, angered by atrocities such as the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls from the north-east village of Chibok in April, has been increasingly vocal.
He was quoted in the local press as calling on Nigerians to defend themselves against the insurgents. During a broadcast Koran reading he was reported to have said: “These people, when they attack towns, they kill boys and enslave girls. People must stand resolute … They should acquire what they can to defend themselves. People must not wait for soldiers to protect them.”
More than 1.5 million Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram have gathered in refugee camps in the north-east, having fled militant gun and bomb attacks.
Yesterday, anti-bomb squad police defused six bombs planted near a mosque and a market in Maiduguri. Two female suicide bombers detonated explosives on Tuesday at a commercial centre in the town, killing at least 70 people.
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