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Death toll in north Nigeria attack rises to more than 150 as surgical masks hide shocked faces
KANO, Nigeria (AP) ' People in this north Nigeria city once wore surgical masks to block the dust swirling through its sprawling neighborhoods, but swarming children hawked the masks for pennies apiece Sunday to block the stench of death at a hospital overflowing with the dead following a coordinated attack by a radical Islamist sect.
The Nigerian Red Cross now estimates more than 150 people died in Friday's attack in Kano, which saw at least two suicide bombers from the sect known as Boko Haram detonate explosive-laden cars. The scope of the attack, apparently planned to free sect members held by authorities here, left even President Goodluck Jonathan speechless as he toured what remained of a regional police headquarters Sunday.
"The federal government will not rest until we arrest the perpetrators of this act," Jonathan said earlier. "They are not spirits, they are not ghosts."
However, unrest continued across Nigeria as unknown assailants in the northern state of Bauchi killed at least 11 people overnight Saturday in attacks that saw at least two churches bombed, a sign how far insecurity has penetrated Africa's most populous nation.
Friday's attacks by Boko Haram hit police stations, immigration offices and the local headquarters of Nigeria's secret police in Kano, a city of more than 9 million people that remains an important political and religious center in the country's Muslim north. The assault left corpses lying in the streets across the city, many wearing police or other security agency uniforms.
On Sunday, soldiers wearing bulky bulletproof vests stood guard at intersections and roundabouts, with bayoneted Kalashnikov rifles at the ready. Some made those disobeying traffic directions do sit-ups or in one case, repeatedly raise a bicycle over their head.
Signs of the carnage still remained. Police officers wearing surgical masks escorted a corpse wrapped in a white burial shroud out of Murtala Muhammed Specialist Hospital, the city's biggest. Hospital officials there declined to comment Sunday, but the smell of the overflowing mortuary hung in the air.
An internal Red Cross report seen Sunday by an Associated Press reporter said that hospital alone has accepted more than 150 dead bodies from the attacks. That death toll could rise further as officials continue to collect bodies.
At least four foreigners were wounded in the attack, the report showed. Among the dead was Indian citizen Kevalkumar Rajput, 23, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Jonathan arrived to the city late Sunday afternoon, traveling quickly by a motorcade to meet with the state governor and the Emir of Kano, an important Islamic figure in the country. His motorcade later rushed to what used to be the regional command headquarters for the Nigeria police, with an armed personnel carrier trailing behind, a soldier manning the heavy machine gun atop it.
The Christian president, wearing a Muslim prayer cap and a black kaftan, looked stunned as he stood near where the suicide car bomber detonated his explosives. Officers there said guards on duty shot the tires of the speeding car, forcing it to stop before it reached the lobby of the headquarters.
However, it didn't matter in the end as the powerful explosives in the car shredded the cement building, tore away its roof and blew out its windows. Blood stained the yellow paint near a second-story window, just underneath a 10-foot-tall tree uprooted and tossed atop the building by the blast.
"Whether you are a policeman or not a policeman, when you see this kind of thing, definitely you'll be worried," said Aminu Ringim, a senior police officer. "You'll be touched."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the multiple attacks Sunday.
"The secretary-general is appalled at the frequency and intensity of recent attacks in Nigeria, which demonstrate a wanton and unacceptable disregard for human life," a statement from his office read. He also expressed "his hope for swift and transparent investigations into these incidents that lead to bringing the perpetrators to justice."
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 that saw a suicide bomber strike the United Nations headquarters in Abuja and at least 510 people killed by the sect, according to an AP count. So far this year, the group has been blamed for 226 killings, according to an AP count.
Nigeria's weak central government repeatedly has been unable to stop attacks by Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north. The group has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign 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.
Violence continued Sunday in Nigeria's north. In Bauchi state, local police commissioner Ikechukwu Aduba said at least 11 people were killed in assaults there that also saw two churches attacked.
It was unclear what started the violence, though communal violence remains occurs between the area's different ethnic groups. Bauchi, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Kano, is also a region where Boko Haram has staged attacks before.
Shehu Saulawa in Bauchi, Nigeria; Salisu Rabiu in Kano, Nigeria and Carley Petesch in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.