Suspected members of a radical Muslim sect attacked a customs office Monday in northeast Nigeria, killing at least three people in a brazen daylight assault highlighting the continuing insecurity of the oil-rich nation.
Authorities quickly blamed a group known locally as Boko Haram, which also had been blamed for an attack Sunday night that left at least 25 people dead at local beer parlors in Nigeria's Muslim north. The group wants strict Shariah law implemented across the region.
The continued violence surrounding Maiduguri has left the city in fear as federal authorities seem unable to stop the group from attacking at will.
Monday afternoon's attack hit the customs office as officials inside held a meeting, said Maj. Gen. Jack Okechukwu Nwaogbo, the commander of a task force targeting Boko Haram. The assault included bombs blasts and gunfire, and killed three people outside of the building, he said.
At least two customs officials were wounded in the attack. Maiduguri, near Lake Chad, draws immigrant and commercial travelers from nearby Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Only the night before, suspected Boko Haram members riding the cheap motorcycles that clog the city attacked three different makeshift bars in the city. While Maiduguri's Borno state is one of 12 that have Shariah law already in place, lax enforcement allows communal beer parlors to operate.
Witnesses and others said at least 25 died in the beer parlor attacks, while Nwaogbo declined to offer a casualty information Monday during a news conference.
"What caused the killings of many people in the attacks were when about 10 gunmen riding seven motorcycles surrounded and took strategic positions at the beer sheds and shops and started firing at the people with their Kalashnikov rifles, before setting ablaze the entire makeshift shacks," he said.
While no arrests have been made over the beer parlor attacks, he said police arrested two men carrying explosives at a Christian church in the city. He said they had pretended they wanted to convert from Islam.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is responsible for a rash of killings which have targeted police officers, soldiers, politicians and clerics in Nigeria's north over the last year _ including attacks on local beer parlors. They have also attacked churches and engineered a massive prison break. However, authorities say attacks intensified after April 26 gubernatorial elections kept the same political party in power.
Boko Haram was thought to be destroyed in 2009 after Nigeria's military crushed its mosque into concrete shards and its leader was arrested and died in police custody that saw 700 people in the city. However, the group has been carrying out a series of attacks, including a bombing earlier this month that the national police headquarters in Nigeria's capital Abuja that killed at least two people.
Once considered by Nigerians to be a local problem, Boko Haram now dominates talk in the nation of 150 million people divided largely into a Christian south and Muslim north. Amnesty International called on Boko Haram on Monday to abandon attacks on civilians.
"These killings are senseless and outrageous. Direct attacks on civilians are prohibited under international law and show a complete disregard for the right to life," said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Africa. "Boko Haram must stop its reign of terror in the country. No cause can justify the deliberate targeting of civilians."
Nwaogbo leads a recently inaugurated military task force charged with bringing the killings under control. However, Nigerian leaders' routine efforts of offering armored cars and trucks to ineffective security agencies has brought no peace to the region.
Police and military checkpoints now dot the city on the edge of the Sahara Desert at night. The checkpoints will no longer require passers-by on motorcycles to get off their rides and walk some 55 yards (50 meters) with their hands above their heads, the general said, as a means to win support from a city unhappy with the military's response.