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Associated Press/Photo by Sunday Alamba

Tension and testing

Nigeria | Two weeks after a violent terrorist attack, residents of Kano remain cautious

KANO, Nigeria-Residents here on Friday will mark the second week under curfew and caution since Boko Haram terrorists stormed the city's center, setting off multiple bombings and gun assaults that residents say killed at least 200 people.

The attacks have been followed by sporadic episodes of explosions, gunfire, and kidnappings attributed to Boko Haram, the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group that has since last year launched an increasing number of attacks in northern Nigeria. These continued threats have forced police to extend a curfew put in place after attacks on Jan. 20 and to lengthen it by one hour. Offices, stores, and restaurants now must close and all residents must be off the streets from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m.-in a city of about 9 million that is Nigeria's second largest.

In the attack last month, Boko Haram struck hardest at police headquarters, and it's no surprise to residents here that national police and the army have turned out in force as a result. On one trip into the city, my driver navigated five checkpoints, three requiring him to open the trunk for inspection. Long lines form at checkpoints inside the city, and major roads that pass close to government installations are closed, forcing drivers to snake through the city's narrow side streets. On one detour our vehicle navigated a one-lane dirt road built wide enough for a horse cart. On it, cars, tour buses, goats, and wheelbarrow merchants all vied for the right of way in two directions.

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The curfew and security hassles are testing the city economically-many shops have stayed closed, fuel is scarce, and most banks have closed or shortened their hours. But Hassan Samadi, owner of al-Sultan restaurant, said most residents appreciate the beefed-up attention following the terror of Jan. 20.

Danjuma Alkali, vice principal of Baba al-Hando Secondary School, lives near the area where bombings began. "Whole buildings were shaking," he said, "and there was so much vibration that some people collapsed from it."

Officials in Kano reported 23 separate explosions in the city that day, and Alkali said in the streets he saw "so many bodies that they were lifted into heavy lorries. Only a few could be identified."

Alkali lives on a compound that's shared by his school, along with a primary school, a medical clinic, and Kano's first ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All) church. The work here began in 1933 as a mission station run by SIM (Serving in Mission). Now tension in the city is testing the churches as well: Boko Haram has issued repeated pronouncements that it plans to target police and government installations along with Christians in Nigeria's northern states. One proclamation posted as "top secret" on a terrorist-linked website last year listed six Nigerian pastors by name and nine church sites, including the ECWA site in Kano.

Boko Haram also announced in the web posting that it had "concluded arrangement to kidnap 22 Americans and some EU citizens." On Jan. 26, a German engineer was kidnapped at his work site in Kano. And Greg Ock, an American working in the Niger Delta region, was kidnapped on the same day as the Kano violence but was released seven days later on Jan. 27. There were also reports on Wednesday that the purported spokesman for Boko Haram had been arrested. An anonymous Borno state official confirmed to local journalists that officers were questioning the man known as "Abul-Qaqa."

Alkali said now he sleeps only an hour or two each night, then goes to check the perimeter of the compound and the streets, where he said military and police security "has been heavy." When I asked him what precautions he is taking, he said, "As a Christian, I pray." But he doesn't allow his family to venture out without knowing exactly where they are going and when they will return.

At the school, at least three students lost a parent in the bombings. One member of the church, a policeman, was shot in the head and killed. Church attendance has remained strong-about 2,000 at each of two Sunday morning services-though some churches in Kano closed the first Sunday after the bombings. The school has seen attendance drop by more than half-from 700 students to just over 300-in the last two weeks, as Christians who can are leaving the city to relocate elsewhere. Whether their departure is temporary or permanent likely will depend on whether the stepped up security can keep Boko Haram from attacking again.


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