Published — Sunday 23 December 2012
Last update 22 December 2012 11:18 pm
KANO, Nigeria: Two suicide car bombers attacked the offices of two mobile phone operators yesterday in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, killing themselves but no civilians, police said.
India’s Airtel and South Africa’s MTN were the targets.
The militant sect Boko Haram has previously blown up telephone masts and offices of phone companies, saying they help the security forces catch its members.
“The one who hit the Airtel office was shot by military men before the bomb exploded ... at the MTN office the car rammed into the fence but no civilians were killed,” Ibrahim Idris, the chief of police in Kano, told Reuters. Both bombs went off.
A military source said one security guard was injured and has been taken to hospital.
MTN and Airtel Nigeria’s parent company Bharti Airtel, India’s top cellphone operator, gave no immediate comment.
The national emergency agency confirmed the bombings and said it was not aware of any civilian casualties. The security forces have played down the death toll in previous bombings.
At least 2,800 people have died in fighting in the largely Muslim north since Boko Haram launched an uprising against the government in 2009, watchdog Human Rights Watch says.
The sect wants to impose strict interpretation of Shariah law on a country of 160 million people split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.
The group has previously targeted churches on Christmas Day and security has been increased in all the major northern cities, although security experts say given the scale of Christian worship in Nigeria they cannot protect everyone.
Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city after the southern commercial hub Lagos, was the site of Boko Haram’s deadliest attack which killed at least 186 people in January in coordinated bombings and shootings.
Armed police have been guarding major churches in Kano this week and additional police checkpoints have been set up around the majority-Muslim city, a Reuters witness said.
Police in Kano said this week that their anti-terrorism squads have been searching houses and buildings they suspect to be hideouts of criminals and “terrorists.”
Security experts say they believe Boko Haram is seeking to spark a religious conflict by targeting Christians in a country where ethnic violence has flared up periodically in recent years, in some cases killing hundreds in the space of hours.
Meanwhile, four South Koreans and a Nigerian who were abducted earlier this week in the oil-producing Niger Delta have been released, police said yesterday.
The four foreign hostages were handed over to South Korean officials in the West African country late on Friday after police arrested suspects in the case.
“The victims were picked up from Azikoro village by men of the special security outfit at about 9 p.m. (2000 GMT),” Bayelsa Police Commissioner Kings Omire told Reuters.
Police spokesman Fidelis Odunna said: “They were released voluntarily because we had suspects in our custody and owing to a hit on their camp, they had to let the men go.”
Omire said another Nigerian taken had already been released, meaning all six who were abducted were now free. The two arrested suspects were being interrogated, he said.
There was no immediate comment from either the South Korean government or Hyundai Heavy Industries, the conglomerate that employs the abducted workers.