Suspected members of a radical Islamic sect set a police station ablaze in northern Nigeria, wounding three officers in an attack similar to one that sparked rioting and a government crackdown that left 700 dead last year, officials said Tuesday.
The attack comes as authorities already blame followers of the Boko Haram sect for a string of assassinations by motorcycle-riding gunmen and a massive prison break in September, worrying signs that the group is regaining its strength.
The attack started at 9:30 p.m. Monday, with suspected followers tossing makeshift bombs into the cement and rock structure, officials said. Three police officers were wounded, said Mohammed Hadi Zarewa, an assistant inspector-general of police in the city of Maiduguri, near Nigeria's border with Chad.
There were no other immediate attacks or threats by the Boko Haram sect, but officials immediately began pat-down searches of everyone passing through major roads in Maiduguri, the city where followers once had their main mosque.
Both Zarewa and Borno state police commissioner Ibrahim Abdu told journalists gathered at the station Tuesday morning that they suspected Boko Haram followers torched the building. The fire ate away the structure's roof, leaving behind only charred concrete walls and a stone facade wall.
Followers of Boko Haram attacked the police station during rioting in July 2009. That violence, as well as a subsequent crackdown by military and police, left more than 700 people dead and Boko Haram's mosque reduced to rubble.
Boko Haram's former leader died in police custody immediately after the riot in what human rights activists described as an extrajudicial killing. The group went into hiding, as police began arresting anyone caught listening to or holding a sermon by the sect.
However, officials now fear the group has rearmed. A video recording released in late June showed a Boko Haram leader calling for new violence as the one-year anniversary of their attack neared.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, wants a stricter version of Islam's Shariah law in place across Nigeria. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim north. A dozen states across Nigeria's north already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.
While President Goodluck Jonathan and others have promised to crackdown on extremism in the country, Boko Haram still appears able to strike at will across pasturelands and plains of northern Nigeria that edge into the Sahara Desert.
In September, the sect launched a coordinated attack on a federal prison in Bauchi that held many of its followers who were arrested following last year's riot. The raid freed about 750 prisoners _ many of whom were members of the sect that still remain at large.
Meanwhile, police suspect Boko Haram members were behind targeted slayings by armed men riding on the back of motorcycle taxis. Many of those killed were individuals who testified against sect members in open court after the 2009 riot. One attack also killed an important Islamic scholar in Maiduguri, a man who openly challenged Boko Haram in local radio broadcasts.
Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell contributed from Lagos, Nigeria.