KANO, Nigeria (AP) — At least 41 people died in a suicide car bomb that struck a bus station in a Christian neighborhood in Kano, northern Nigeria's busiest commercial center, in the most deadly attack in nine months that is blamed on Islamic extremists, an official said Tuesday.
The blast increased tensions in this divided West African nation.
At least 44 others were injured in the attack that hit the city of Kano Monday evening, a rescue official who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press. Kano state police said Tuesday that two men rammed an explosive-laden blue VW Golf into a full passenger bus in a mainly Christian enclave in the predominantly Muslim commercial center.
By striking at about 5 p.m. Monday, the bombers seemed to have targeted passengers preparing for the 15-hour overnight road trip to the megacity of Lagos in Nigeria's south, loved ones bidding them farewell and vendors selling drinks and snacks. The blast triggered panic and pandemonium in a city that has seen similar violence in the past.
The death toll rose from 22 early Tuesday to 41 later in the day, said Kano police chief Musa Daura said in a statement. There were 21 bodies were at Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital and 20 more at Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, said rescue officials. They are also treating 41 and 3 injured respectively.
The injured suffered varying degrees of wounds. Sabiu Musa, a 29-year old trader, had a burned hand, while Francis Oke sustained injuries so grave that he could barely speak.
Oke's wife sat by his bedside and answered calls from those inquiring over his progress. "Thank God I survived. Thank God I survived," was all her husband kept whispering in a ward dedicated to the blast victims at the specialist hospital.
Assistance to the injured came late because security forces said the explosion site was not safe, said the rescue official, who refused to give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the press. In previous attacks, bombers have timed a second explosion soon after the first one, often causing more damage; but a second bomb did not come in this case. A fire, however, raged for more than four hours before it was put out. At the specialist hospital, nearly all those admitted suffered burns.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion immediately fell on the radical Islamic network Boko Haram. Monday's attack came more than a year after the Jan. 20, 2012 coordinated Boko Haram attacks that left more than 150 people dead in Kano. It also came about nine months after a trio of attacks on churches in the cities of Zaria and Kaduna claimed by the group, setting off violence that eclipsed the original attacks, bringing the death toll to at least 98 people.
The group has been waging a campaign of bombings and shootings across Nigeria's north. It is held responsible for more than 790 deaths last year alone, and dozens more since the beginning of this year.
The car bombing was the latest high-casualty attack deepening religious tensions in a West African nation of more than 160 million people evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. However, Boko Haram has carried out a string of suicide bombings targeting churches, government buildings, security facilities and crowded areas, such as markets and bars, as well as countless drive-by killings.
On Tuesday morning, while the city still reeled from the explosions, a policewoman was killed in a drive-by shooting as she stopped to replace a flat tire, Kano police said. Hours later, three soldiers were killed as a suicide bomber rammed in a military van Tuesday in northeastern city of Maiduguri, the group's spiritual home, said a soldier who survived the attack.
As the extremists' threat grows, the Nigeria government has been unable to stop the killings, even in main centers such as Kano.
Residents of Kano, a city of an estimated 4 million people, said they only wished for normalcy to come back to the region.
"We have no other place to go than Kano," said a Christian community leader, Tobias Michael Idika, who has lived most of his life although he is originally from the country's south. "Government should stop this violence," Idika said.
Haruna Umar contributed to this report from Maiduguri, Nigeria.