KANO, Nigeria — At least 120 people were killed and 270 others wounded on Friday when two suicide bombers blew themselves up and gunmen opened fire on a Muslim congregation at Friday prayers in the central mosque in northern Nigeria’s largest city of Kano, a rescue official said.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the toll could rise, as some of the wounded were in critical condition and may not survive.
A third bomb exploded outside the mosque among a crowd of worshipers.
The attacks come two weeks after the emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, one of Nigeria’s most influential monarchs, called for self-defense, urging people to procure arms and fight Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has a significant presence in the area.
The emir made the call at the same mosque where Friday’s attack occurred.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Boko Haram is the main suspect. Many believe the attacks were reprisals for the emir’s call to arms against the terror group.
A CNN reporter at the morgue of the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital — one of two hospitals treating victims of the attacks — counted 94 bodies and was told by a health professional involved in collecting bodies that 38 bodies already had been identified and taken by relations for burial.
“We have around 140 dead bodies brought from the mosque and more than 160 being treated for various injuries,” the health professional said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on casualties.
“This is only for this hospital. Other corpses and wounded victims have been taken to Nassarawa Specialist Hospital,” he said.
At Nassarawa Specialist Hospital, a rescue worker said the facility had received scores of injured and dead.
“We brought in more than 150 people injured in the attack at the mosque along with dozens of dead bodies,” the rescue worker said.
Hundreds of relations have thronged the morgues and emergency units of the two hospitals to identify their dead relations and tend for those wounded, with doctors and nurses overstretched by the huge number of casualties.
At the Murtala Mohammed hospital, relatives were taking turns entering the morgue in groups to identify loved ones killed in the attacks, then to take bodies for burial after documentation by morgue attendants.
National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said the two bombers detonated explosives strapped to their bodies within short intervals while gunmen opened fire on worshipers who were trying to escape. At least three men, wearing explosives and armed with AK-47s, arrived in a Toyota Sienna van and opened fire on people fleeing the mosque, Kano Deputy Police Commissioner Sanusi N. Lemo told reporters.
An irate mob pursued the gunmen who had opened fire on worshipers, and people in the mob killed the gunmen, Ojukwu and witnesses said.
“The fact that the people pursued and killed the gunmen with bare hands shows the people have heeded to the call of the emir to fight back,” said resident Sani Akarami.
The emir, who had urged resistance against Boko Haram, was not at the mosque when the attack took place. He is in Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage, sources close to the emir said.
If Boko Haram is found to be responsible for these latest attacks it would be the second worst attack on Kano by the militants.
On January 20, 2012 at least 185 people were killed and scores injured in coordinated bomb and shooting attacks on security formations in the city by Boko Haram gunmen.
Kano is one of the areas where Boko Haram has fought an anti-government campaign to institute Sharia, or Islamic law. Attacks attributed to the group in Kano include a wave of bombings that killed 180 people in one day in 2012 and a suicide bombing that killed six people, including three police officers, at a gas station this month.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin,” still is believed to be holding more than 200 girls it abducted in April from a school in Chibok, Borno state.
Also this month, Boko Haram’s leader said the girls had been converted to Islam and married off, and he denied the government’s claim that it had reached a ceasefire agreement with the group.
President Goodluck Jonathan extended his condolences to the victims of the mosque attack and directed officials to conduct a full-scale investigation, Nigerian state broadcaster NTA.