Kano cops raid Islamist hideout
Kano - The sound of heavy gunfire caused panic early Tuesday in northern Nigeria's city of Kano when security forces raided a suspected Islamist hideout just days after attacks killed 185, witnesses said.
According to Human Rights Watch, attacks blamed on the Islamist sect Boko Haram have killed more than 935 people since the group launched a violent campaign in July 2009, including more than 250 this year alone.
Gunfire and what appeared to be explosions rang out for several hours in an area near a police station.
One witness said that a large number of military and state security services operatives encircled a house suspected to be a Boko Haram hideout shortly after midnight.
They opened fire and a suspect fired back resulting in a shootout lasting around four-and-a-half hours.
A man and his wife were killed in the raid, residents said.
"They came in large numbers, some of them stayed on the main road, while others came in through the alley. They began shooting, and he fired back... This was followed by a barrage of gunfire by the security men," a neighbour Mohammed Maikubi Bala said.
An empty bullet shell lay strewn in a pool of blood just a few steps into the house. A cousin squatted near the blood.
Known to be peaceful
"I was called and told that my brother and his wife had been shot. He was a simple man known to be peaceful and as far as I know he has never been questioned by the security over any links with Boko Haram," said cousin Shehu Idris.
A car in the driveway was riddled with bullets and its wind shield smashed.
Relatives and a crowd of curious neighbours mingled outside before police came to search the house.
It was not clear where the sound of explosions emanated from although a resident suggested there was use of heavy machine guns during the raid.
"Everybody in the neighbourhood was in fear. We couldn't sleep," said a resident who lives a few houses away.
Residents had feared the city was under fresh attacks just days after co-ordinated gun-and-bomb attacks on Friday killed 185 people, more than two dozen of them policemen, in Boko Haram's deadliest ever operation.
Details have emerged of the mode of Friday's attacks, with police announcing that large numbers of explosive devices were discovered and that five of the assailants were suicide bombers.
Witness said some of the assailants wore police uniforms.
Police in Kano, a city of 4.5 million, on Monday said they found 10 bomb-laden cars and hundreds of other unexploded devices.
Campaign of terror
Muslim clerics said prayers for peace after the attacks on Friday in the country's second-largest city stoked fresh fears of an all-out civil war in Africa's most populous nation and top oil producer.
President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to beef up security as he grapples with the worst crises of his nine-month tenure - a surge in Boko Haram attacks and mounting social discontent.
Human Rights Watch urged the Nigerian authorities to put a stop to "this campaign of terror" and prosecute perpetrators of "these reprehensible crimes".
It said Boko Haram has killed 935 people since 2009, 253 of them in the first three weeks of this year.
"Boko Haram's attacks show a complete and utter disregard for human life," said Corinne Dufka, HRW's West Africa researcher.
Jonathan imposed emergency rule in parts of Nigeria's north on December 31 after a string of violence blamed on Boko Haram. But Kano, which had escaped the worst of the violence in recent months, was not among the areas covered.
A purported spokesperson for Boko Haram said the attacks were in response to a refusal by the authorities to release arrested members of the group from custody.
The group which has staged a series of increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks, often targeting security agencies and lately Christians, is believed to have a number of factions with differing aims, including some with political links and a hardcore Islamist cell.