Gunmen killed at least 10 people in horrifying attacks on two Nigerian polio clinics on Friday, dealing a new blow to the campaign to wipe out the disease.
Seven women were shot dead at one clinic and a man and two women were killed at another. Both attacks were in the northern city of Kano.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the “dastardly terrorist attacks” that came after a local cleric denounced polio vaccination campaigns and some local radio stations aired conspiracy theories about the vaccine being a Western plot to harm Muslims.
The UN and the US also slammed the killings, with the world body saying the population was being “robbed of basic life-saving health interventions.”
“Any violence that prevents children from receiving basic lifesaving vaccines is absolutely unacceptable, wherever it happens,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Conspiracy theories against the polio campaign have long been spread in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north. Nigeria is one of only three countries — with Pakistan and Afghanistan — still considered to have endemic polio.
Police spokesman Magaji Majia said that nine people were killed on the spot when gunmen on motorized tricycles “attacked two dispensaries where polio immunization workers were preparing to go out for polio campaigns.”
One woman died later in hospital from injuries suffered, raising the death toll to 10, a doctor said.
Police declined to say whether any group was suspected.
Extremist group Boko Haram has carried out attacks in Kano, though gangs linked to local politics also operate there.
The two clinics are about 5km apart.
At the building where seven women were killed, windows were broken, the front door was blackened by fire and blood could be seen on the floor.
Six people on a big-wheel tricycle pulled up outside the second dispensary as polio immunization workers were gathering for the day’s house-to-house campaign, a resident said.
“Two of the men were holding guns. They stormed into the dispensary and began shooting,” the person added.
One victim, who was shot in the back, said from her hospital bed that two gunmen stormed into the consultation room where she and five other immunization workers were seated and opened fire, killing two people. They then set a curtain ablaze and shut the door behind them as they fled.
“We summoned courage and broke the door because we realized they wanted to burn us alive,” said the woman, who declined to give her name or age.
Three other victims wounded in the attack were hospitalized and one later died.
Jonathan expressed sympathy to the families of the dead health workers and vowed to “ensure that the mission to totally eradicate polio from Nigeria, in which they were patriotically engaged, is carried out to a very successful conclusion.”
In a joint statement, UNICEF and the WHO condemned the killings as a “double tragedy: for the health workers and their families and for children and vulnerable populations who are robbed of basic life-saving health interventions.”
Last year, gunmen killed two Nigerian police guarding polio vaccination workers.
Some Muslim clerics have alleged that the vaccine was laced with substances that could make girls infertile as part of a US-led Western plot to depopulate Africa.
However, conspiracy theories have not been the only reason for skepticism. US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer carried out a controversial trial in 1996 for a meningitis drug blamed for the deaths of 11 Nigerian children and disabilities in dozens of others.