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“I see a number of people lying on the floor — at least four or five. I cannot see if they are dead. There are a lot of security around,” Tikko said by telephone.

Local police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said police are investigating. In a statement, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s office called the attack “barbaric, senseless and cowardly.” The statement also promised to increase security in the nation’s capital.

“President Jonathan reaffirms the federal government’s total commitment to vigorously combat the incursion of all forms of terrorism into Nigeria, and wishes to reassure all Nigerians and the international community that his administration will spare no effort to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement read.

The secretary-general said he was sending Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and U.N. security chief Gregory Starr to Abuja immediately to meet with Nigerian authorities and to “respond to this emergency.”

Nigeria, a nation of 150 million, is split between a largely Christian south and Muslim north. In recent months, the country has faced an increasing threat from Boko Haram. The sect has carried out assassinations and bombings, including the June car bombing in Abuja of the national headquarters of Nigeria’s federal police that killed at least two people.

Earlier this month, the commander for U.S. military operations in Africa said Boko Haram may be trying to link with two al Qaeda-linked groups in other African countries to mount joint attacks in Nigeria.

Gen. Carter Ham told AP on Aug. 17 during a visit to Nigeria that “multiple sources” indicate Boko Haram made contacts with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in northwest Africa, and with al-Shabab in Somalia.

“I think it would be the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well,” Carter said.

Gambrell reported from Lagos, Nigeria. Associated Press writers Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Nigeria, Michelle Faul in Johannesburg, Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.