KANO: Bomb blasts have rocked northeastern Nigerian cities under a state of emergency as an ultimatum from Islamists for Christians living in the area to leave expired, officials said Thursday.
No casualties were reported after the attacks in Maiduguri and Damaturu late Wednesday, claimed by the same purported spokesman for Islamist group Boko Haram who on Sunday issued a three-day ultimatum for Christians living in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north to leave.
One of the bombs in Maiduguri, Boko Haram’s stronghold, destroyed a house near a customs barracks, according to a customs source and resident. The Damaturu blast occurred at an open-air pub.
In a separate incident, two civilians were shot dead on the outskirts of Damaturu, a hospital source said.
The attacks were the first incidents in the area since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency last weekend in parts of the country hard hit by violence blamed on the Boko Haram, a nebulous and shadowy Islamist group that has claimed responsibility for the recent violence in Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous nation.
Abul Qaqa, who claims to be a spokesman for the group, said it was behind the latest bomb attacks, though his claims could not be independently verified.
"We are responsible for the bomb blasts in Damaturu and Maiduguri this evening," he said in a phone call to AFP. "This is a response to the expiration of the ultimatum we gave to southerners to leave."
Nigeria’s population of 160 million is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south, but with each area having a millions-strong minority of the other faith.
Late Sunday, the same Boko Haram spokesman warned that in the wake of Jonathan’s emergency decree, the group would confront soldiers and those Christians who did not heed the warning to leave.
The country’s police chief issued a statement calling on residents to ignore the ultimatum.
"Nigeria is one united and indivisible entity where citizens are at liberty to reside where they desire and practise whatever faith," Hafiz Ringim said in the statement.
A spokesman for a military task force in Maiduguri, Colonel Hassan Mohammed, told AFP that there were two explosions in the Mairi area.
"The explosives were planted in a ditch and detonated when nobody was around," he said, adding they occurred near a customs centre, but denying the establishment was the target.
But a customs source and resident refuted Mohammed’s account, saying a customs officer’s residence was destroyed, though no one was there at the time.
"A bomb went off at the edge of the barracks," the customs source said.
"The house of an officer close to the wall was destroyed in the blast.
Fortunately, he was out on duty and nobody was home at the time."
In a first attack since the state of emergency was declared, but just outside the areas covered by the decree, gunmen attacked a police station in northern Nigeria’s Jigawa state late Tuesday, killing a teenage girl and wounding an officer.
Jonathan’s weekend declaration of a state of emergency in parts of four northern states hard hit by violence came in response to a wave of attacks attributed to Boko Haram, particularly Christmas bombings that killed 49 people.
While Boko Haram has been blamed for increasingly deadly attacks for months, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that left 25 dead, the Christmas violence sparked intense fear and outrage.
Muslims have frequently been victims of Boko Haram attacks, most of which have occurred in northeastern Nigeria, but the Christmas bombings targeted churches and sparked fears of retaliation from Christians.