KANO, Nigeria (AP) — A coordinated series of bombings and attacks claimed by a radical Islamist sect left "many" dead and injured in northern Nigeria's largest city, a Nigerian Red Cross spokesman said Saturday, as gunfire still echoed around some areas of the sprawling city.
Soldiers and police officers swarmed over streets Saturday in Kano, a city of more than 9 million people that remains an important political and religious hub in Nigeria's Muslim north. While witnesses of Friday's attack said they saw seven dead bodies, the scope of the assault claimed by a sect known as Boko Haram also suggests the death toll could rise.
In a statement issued late Friday, federal police spokesman Olusola Amore said attackers targeted five police buildings, two immigration offices and the local headquarters of the State Security Service, Nigeria's secret police.
"The police have commenced investigation and therefore use this medium to call for calm among the residents of Kano as police are doing their best to bring the situation under control," Amore said. Police are "appealing to members of the public to come forward with information on the identity and location of these hoodlums. Information given will be treated with utmost confidentiality."
Amore could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday. Whether anyone trusts the police remains another matter as security agencies remain unable to stop the increasingly bloody sectarian attacks by Boko Haram on Nigeria's weak central government. Earlier this week, the police acknowledged the alleged mastermind of a Catholic church bombing at Christmas escaped custody, yet another embarrassment for security agencies amid the violence.
Nwakpa O. Nwakpa, a spokesman for the Nigerian Red Cross, said volunteers continued to offer first aid to the wounded, as well as evacuated those seriously injured to local hospitals. He said officials continued to collect corpses scattered around sites of the attacks.
Nwakpa said there had yet to be an estimate issued of toll of the attacks.
"From what they are saying, there are many involved, either wounded or dead," Nwakpa said.
The attacks began at 5 p.m. Friday, following afternoon prayers as workers began to leave their offices in the sprawling, dusty city, witnesses said.
A massive blast at a regional police headquarters shook cars miles (kilometers) away, an Associated Press reporter said. The blast came from a suicide car bomber who drove into the regional headquarters compound and detonated his explosives, deputy superintendent of police Aminu Ringim said. The explosion tore away the headquarters' roof and blew out the building's windows.
Inmates at the regional police headquarters fled amid gunfire, witnesses said.
State authorities declared a 24-hour curfew late Friday as residents hid inside their homes amid the fighting.
A Boko Haram spokesman using the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks in a message to journalists. He said the attack came as the state government refused to release Boko Haram members held by the police.
Boko Haram has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is responsible for at least 510 killings last year alone, according to an AP count. So far this year, the group has been blamed for at least 76 killings, according to an AP count.
Boko Haram's targets have included both Muslims and Christians. However, the group has begun specifically targeting Christians after promising it will kill any Christians living in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. That has further inflamed religious and ethnic tensions in Nigeria, which has seen ethnic violence kill thousands in recent years.
Friday's attacks also could cause more unrest, as violence in Kano has set off attacks throughout the north in the past, including postelection violence in April that saw 800 people killed. Kano, an ancient city, remains important in the history of Islam in Nigeria and has important religious figures there even today.
Authorities previously believed they destroyed Boko Haram in 2009, after a riot and ensuing security crackdown in Nigeria's northeast killed 700 people, including its then-leader Mohammed Yusuf. The group began to re-emerge in 2010, as authorities blamed motorcycle-riding gunmen from the sect for targeted assassinations.
However, the sect's attacks have grown more complex and deadly over time. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for an August suicide car bombing that targeted the U.N. headquarters in the capital, killing 25 people and wounding more than 100. The sect killed at least 42 people during a series of attacks Christmas Day in Nigeria that included the bombing of a Catholic church outside the country's capital Abuja.
In a video released last week, Imam Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram's current leader, said the government could not handle attacks by the group.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, has declared emergency rule in some regions, the sect is blamed for almost daily attacks. Jonathan also has said he believes the sect has infiltrated security agencies and government offices in the country, though he has offered no evidence to back up the claim.
Associated Press writer Ibrahim Garba contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria and can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.