KANO, Nigeria (AP) — The emir of Kano and the state's top politician offered prayers Monday for the more than 150 people killed in a coordinated attack by a radical Islamist sect, though fear kept many Nigerians from coming to the mosque.
Emir Ado Bayero, 81, whispered to God through a microphone at a mosque in Kano, a city of more than 9 million in Nigeria's Muslim north. The mosque sat half empty for the special service Monday. Secret police officers in ill-fitting suits stood guard with assault rifles out of fear the sect known as Boko Haram could strike again.
"I call on people from all groups to pray for this place," said Bayero, who was joined by Kano state Gov. Rabiu Kwankwaso. Residents of Kano tried to restore a semblance of normality, but nerves were on edge.
The Nigerian Red Cross estimates more than 150 people died in Friday's attack in Kano, which saw at least two Boko Haram suicide bombers detonate explosive-laden cars. The attack hit police stations, immigration offices and the local headquarters of Nigeria's secret police, leaving corpses lying in the streets across the city, many wearing police or other security agency uniforms. The scale of the attack left President Goodluck Jonathan speechless as he toured what remained of a regional police headquarters Sunday.
A Boko Haram spokesman using the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks in a message to journalists Friday. He said the attack came because the state government refused to release Boko Haram members held by the police.
The coordinated attack in Kano represents Boko Haram's deadliest assault since beginning a campaign of terror last year. Boko Haram has killed 226 people so far in 2012, more than half of the 510 people the sect killed in all of 2011, according to an Associated Press count.
Nigeria's weak central government has been unable to stop the killings, and its heavy-handed military response has been criticized by civilians who live in fear of sect attacks.
Security forces on Sunday shot dead four people they accused of being Boko Haram members after finding explosive-making materials in their car in the sect's stronghold of Maiduguri, said Col. Victor Ebhaleme, a military field operation officer in the northeastern city. Local police said at the same time on Sunday, a suspected sect member killed a Maiduguri High Court registrar at his home.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, wants to implement strict Shariah law and avenge the deaths of Muslims in communal violence across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people split largely into a Christian south and Muslim north.
While the sect has begun targeting Christian living in the north, the majority of those killed Friday appeared to be Muslim, officials have said.
The emir left the mosque Monday morning leaning on a cane, moving slowly. Dark sunglasses hid the bags under his eyes. The emirates of Nigeria, which date back to the early 1800s, still remain spiritual leaders for Muslims in Nigeria's north. British colonialists used the emirates to rule the north by proxy until independence in 1960. Many believe Nigeria's corrupt politicians now do the same.
The waning influence of traditional rulers and the rise of Boko Haram has many fearing more violence will come in Nigeria's north. Aminu Garba, 38, who stood outside the mosque after the prayer service, said his wife suffered a miscarriage during Friday's attack.
"We are not safe at all. We are not safe," Garba said. He described hearing a tire burst on Sunday, causing people nearby to drop whatever they were carrying and run away.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
Associated Press writer Njadvara Musa in Maiduguri, Nigeria contributed to this report.