Scores killed in mosque attack in Nigerian city of Kano

Officials said more than 100 people were killed on Friday when suicide bombers and gunmen targeted crowds gathered for weekly prayers at the mosque of a senior cleric who had urged Nigeria's Muslims to take up arms against Boko Haram.

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State Deputy Police Commissioner Sanusi Lemu said at least 150 others were wounded in the attack, which came just as Friday prayers had started at the Grand Mosque in Kano, the biggest city in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.

Some rescue and medical sources put the number of victims at more than 100. A senior rescue services official said there were at least 120 dead, adding that emergency workers were still trying to visit local hospitals to get a proper count. A mortuary attendant at the Murtala specialist hospital told the Associated Press that he counted more than 102 dead bodies.

A Reuters correspondent visited two mortuaries and estimated the number of victims at 81, citing medical officer Muhammad Ali. An AFP reporter at the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital morgue counted 92 bodies, most of them men and boys with blast injuries and severe burns.

The Grand Mosque is attached to the palace of the Emir of Kano Muhammad Sanusi II, Nigeria's second-most-senior Muslim cleric, who last week urged civilians to take up arms against Boko Haram, the Islamist group waging an insurgency to overthrow the government and establish Islamic law.

Police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu told AFP that the suicide bombers blew themselves up in quick succession. Soon after, "gunmen opened fire on those who were trying to escape" the wreckage.

The blasts came after another bomb attack against a mosque in Maiduguri was foiled earlier on Friday. The renewed violence comes five days after two female suicide bombers killed more than 45 people in the northeastern city.

Ojukwu said an angry mob killed four of the shooters in the chaotic aftermath of the attack.

Witnesses in the city said they were set on fire.

Clerics slam army response

The Emir of Kano last week told worshippers at the same mosque that northerners should take up arms against Boko Haram, which has been fighting for a hardline Islamic state in Nigeria since 2009.

The emir also cast doubt on the capability of Nigerian troops to protect civilians and end the Islamist insurgency, in rare public comments by a cleric on political and military affairs. The emir, who is currently thought to be out of the country, is a hugely influential figure in Nigeria, which is home to more than 80 million Muslims, most of whom live in the north.

A statement earlier this week from Nigeria's top Muslim cleric, the Sultan of Sokoto, was also critical of the army response to Boko Haram. It described the military's handling of the Islamist group's five-year-long uprising as "unfortunate, worrisome and embarrassing" in a statement released by the JNI, the country's top Muslim body, which speaks for the sultan.

"Soldiers take to their heels and abandon their bases, arms, ammunition and other military hardware on the approach of the insurgents," the statement said.

Officially, the Emir of Kano is the country's No. 2 cleric, behind the Sultan of Sokoto. Sanusi was named emir earlier this year and is a prominent figure in his own right, having previously served as the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

During his time in charge of the bank, he spoke out against massive government fraud and was suspended from his post in February just as his term of office was drawing to a close.

Previous attacks

Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked Kano. On November 14, a suicide bomb attack at a petrol station killed six people, including three police officers.

The Islamist group also has a record of attacking prominent clerics. In July 2012 a suicide bomber killed five people leaving Friday prayers at the home of the Shehu of Borno in Maiduguri.

The Shehu is Nigeria's No. 3 Islamic leader.

Boko Haram threatened Sanusi's predecessor and the Sultan of Sokoto for allegedly betraying the faith by submitting to the authority of the secular government in Abuja. In early 2013, the Islamists attacked the predecessor's convoy.

Andrew Noakes, co-ordinator of the Nigeria Security Network of security analysts, said the attack fit a pattern of violence targeting religious and traditional leaders seen as "allies" of the state.

He said it was possible that the group carried out the attack as a direct response to Sanusi's comments last week, although it may have been planned beforehand.

"Whatever the case, the group has sent a message to northern (Muslim) leaders that crossing them will have consequences," Noakes said in an email exchange.

Boko Haram attacks in recent months have ranged from the far northeast of Nigeria across the wider north and northwest, using hit-and-run tactics, suicide bombings and car bombs.

The authorities in Cameroon, Chad and Niger have all expressed concern about Boko Haram's ability to conduct cross-border strikes, particularly as the dry season approaches.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)