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Islamist militants in Nigeria claim responsibility for recent attacks that killed almost 200 people. The radical sect Boko Haram operates in northern Nigeria in the city of Kano. The latest bombing there yesterday destroyed a police station.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is there.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Kano is an ancient, sprawling city of more than nine million whose Muslim day of prayers last Friday was shattered by a series of coordinated blasts.

We're in one of the main market areas here in Kano. And just down the street, the street has been blocked off, because that's where one of the police stations was hit last Friday in the series of bombings that Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for.

Sagir Ali is a security guard at a parking lot here at the market. He says he watched as nearby government offices were attacked.

SAGIR ALI: (Through translator) I was here when I saw a group of people and they started bombing the immigration office. And then we saw smoke rising. The attackers told us, don't run away - we're fighting the police, not the civilians.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ali reports the assailants were a group of young, heavily armed men shouting Allawu Akbar - God is great. The police say the attacks were well-planned, and deadly, and targeted mainly police stations and government buildings.

The casualty count from the multiple bombings in Kano is between 150 and 200 and rising. Nigeria's security forces have been sharply criticized for failing to contain Boko Haram. Under pressure to stop the violence, President Goodluck Jonathan travelled to Kano over the weekend. He says the militants have changed tactics.

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN: These suicide attacks have not been a part of us, they are quite new to us. Unfortunately, the whole world is passing through terror attacks. It's a very ugly phase of our history.

QUIST-ARCTON: From a homegrown Islamist sect which initially picked on government and security institutions, Boko Haram has evolved into a serious security threat for Nigeria - killing, shooting and bombing at will, in what some describe as a declaration of war against President Jonathan's government.

Of late, churches too have been hit, adding an overtly religious hue to the violence, with the insurgents warning Christians to leave Nigeria's mainly Muslim north. Some see the influence of al-Qaida and radical Somali al-Shabaab militants.

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QUIST-ARCTON: With soldiers patrolling Kano's streets, and a curfew enforced, many in Nigeria's multi-ethnic communities are living in fear and apprehension. The Kano state governor invited local and religious leaders and traditional rulers, including the Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, for a talk all about peace, reconciliation, and solidarity.

ADO BAYERO: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: The Emir, and many others present at the gathering, stressed the need for calm, and for Nigerians to live in harmony.

At the outdoor parking lot, Sagir Ali, the security guard, says the government must do more so that no Nigerian feel so alienated, marginalized, and neglected that they're ready to take up arms against the state and the people.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Kano.

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