KANO, Nigeria (AP) — The aging Muslim spiritual leader of this northern Nigeria city, his eyes heavy with fatigue, leaned into a microphone Monday and whispered to God his wish for peace after the killing of at least 185 people in an attack by a radical Islamist sect.
On the street, however, smudged black graffiti written in charcoal gave a different message: “Boko Haram good.”
Though businesses reopened and traffic again filled the streets Monday of Nigeria‘s second-largest city, people in Kano remained fearful the radical sect known as Boko Haram will attack again. That tension only increased as police announced they had discovered 10 unexploded car bombs around the city, as uniformed officers and soldiers melted away from public view in this city of more than 9 million people.
“We are not safe at all,” warned resident Aminu Garba, 38. “We are not safe.”
Police issued a statement late Monday giving a fuller account of what happened during Friday’s attack that saw at least two Boko Haram suicide bombers detonate explosive-laden cars. The statement by state police Commissioner Ibrahim Idris described attackers as speaking accented Hausa and other languages not normally heard in Kano as they assaulted police stations, immigration offices and the local headquarters of Nigeria‘s secret police.
The attack killed 150 civilians, 29 police officers, three secret police officers, two immigration officers and one customs official, Commissioner Idris said, rising the toll to 185 dead. Medical workers and emergency officials say they still expect the death toll to rise.
Officers also have discovered 10 car bombs in the city, as well as about 300 bombs made from aluminum cans and other explosives, Commissioner Idris said.
On Monday, Emir of Kano Ado Bayero and Kano state Gov. Rabiu Kwankwaso sat together at the front of a mosque typically full of worshippers during Friday prayers in this dusty, sprawling city. However, the special service to commemorate the dead and ask God for peace and justice drew much smaller crowds than usual, with half of the prayer mats unoccupied.
“I call on people from all groups to pray for this place,” Emir Bayero said.
Meanwhile, secret police officers stood guard outside with assault rifles.
Emir Bayero is one of the premier rulers of the emirates of Nigeria, a system of governance that dates back to the 1800s and still carried spiritual importance to Muslims. British colonialists used the emirates to rule the north by proxy until Nigeria gained its independence in 1960. Many believe Nigeria‘s corrupt politicians now do the same, as the vast majority of those living in the north deal with crushing poverty in a nation where most earn less than $2 a day.
The influence of traditional leaders in Nigeria has waned in recent years, and the 81-year-old emir himself showed his age as he walked slowly away from the mosque, leaning heavily on his cane.
Such leaders previously promised to intercede for the government to stop the increasingly violent sectarian attacks of Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language. However, a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable claims that Nigeria‘s government in 2008 released suspected Islamist extremists to such leaders as part of a parole program.
Around that same time, Nigerian authorities released a Boko Haram member now suspected of helping organize the August suicide car bombing of the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Abuja, that killed 25 people.
The coordinated attack Friday in Kano represents Boko Haram’s deadliest assault since beginning a campaign of terror last year. Boko Haram has killed 227 people so far in 2012, nearly half of the 510 people the sect killed in all of 2011, according to an Associated Press count.