At least 150 people died in a “heinous” wave of gun and bomb attacks in northern Nigeria that were on Saturday claimed by the Islamist Boko Haram sect.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the assaults, which officials said included at least five suicide bomb blasts and “directed security agencies to ensure the arrest of perpetrators of these heinous acts,” his spokesman, Reuben Abati, said in a statement.
As corpses piled up in the morgue, a rescue agency official said the body count stood at 150.
“I was involved in the evacuation of corpses to the morgue. I personally counted 150 bodies,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at the hospital. He said some families had already collected their loved ones for burial, reducing the number to 97 by end of the day.
A reporter counted 97 corpses still in the mortuary.
The Red Cross earlier said the death toll stood at 63, while police spoke of 53, of whom 11 were members of its force.
“From our inventory, 53 people have so far been killed in the attack,” local police chief Suleimon Lawal said.
The 15-nation UN Security Council released a statement saying it “condemned in the strongest terms” the attacks in Nigeria. The council expressed condolences to the families.
A member of the Boko Haram sect on Saturday claimed responsibility.
“We are responsible for the attack in [northeastern] Borno [state] and Damaturu,” Abul Qaqa said by telephone.
“We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop persecuting our members and vulnerable civilians,” Qaqa said.
The Friday bomb and gun attacks targeted police stations, an army base and churches in the cities of Damaturu, Maiduguri and two other small towns.
Jonathan’s spokesman said the attacks had forced him to skip his brother’s wedding which took place in his village in southern Nigeria on Saturday.
The military deployed to curb the violence in Maiduguri said there were four suicide bomb attacks in parts of the city, including an army base and on the outskirts of Maiduguri.
The attackers bombed their targets then took on the security forces in gun battles in Damaturu. Residents said gunfire rang out for several hours across the city after the explosions.
“It was a suicide bomb attack at one of our buildings. The attacker came in a Honda CRV and rammed into the building and explosives exploded,” Lawal said.
A reporter said no office was still standing at the police headquarters, which was still smouldering about 24 hours after the attack. Three burned cars lay in front of the building.
A journalist described scenes of chaos and destruction in Damaturu.
“In fact, Damaturu is looking just like Libya ... burnt cars and buildings,” the reporter said.
In a mainly Christian neighborhood of Damaturu called Jerusalem, six churches were bombed in addition to a police station.
“A police station and a mechanical workshop of the police were attacked. Six churches in the area were also bombed,” resident Edwin Silas said, adding: “The whole city is traumatized.”
The string of attacks came two days ahead of the annual Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice. Police have been placed on red alert nationwide.
Meanwhile, militants from Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sin” in the regional Hausa language, yesterday gunned down a police inspector in the city of Maiduguri, the sect’s spiritual home.