(AFP) – Nigeria marked the Muslim feast of Eid el-Adha amid fears and tears as the US warned of possible new attacks after after deadly blasts claimed by Islamists killed 150 people in the northeast of the country.
The attacks on Friday in Damaturu were among the deadliest ever carried out by Boko Haram, an Islamist sect based in the north of Africa’s most populous country.
The US embassy in Nigeria warned that the sect could next attack hotels and other targets in the capital Abuja during the Muslim holiday.
“Following the recent Boko Haram, aka Nigerian Taliban, attacks in Borno and Yobe State, the US embassy has received information that Boko Haram may plan to attack several locations and hotels in Abuja,” during the Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday, the embassy said in a statement.
Security was stepped up in Abuja, which has been a target of past extremist attacks, including the August 26 suicide bomb at the UN headquarters which claimed 24 lives.
Some 13,000 policemen and specialist anti-terror squads were deployed to mosques and churches and other strategic locations in the city, a police official said. Worshippers were screened by metal detectors before they entered some churches.
In the grief-stricken city of Damaturu where the 150 died, thousands of Muslims gathered for Eid el-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifices prayers at an open ground patrolled by dozens of armed police.
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who described the wave of gun and bomb attacks in the capital of Yobe state as “heinous”, appealed to Muslims to pray for peace in the country as they marked Eid.
“It is a period that we are all expected to live in peace but as a nation we have our own challenges, even during this holy period we still have incidents happening here and there,” he said.
While Christian churches and police were among the initial targets for the attacks, gunmen fired indiscriminately in the streets and Muslims and Christians alike were among those killed, local officials reported.
“The death toll cuts across religion, profession, status. There was no particular social stratum that was excluded,” said Ibrahim Farinloye, spokesman for Nigeria’s emergency management agency in the northeast.
“The attack seems to have been haphazardly carried out which explains the heavy toll. Both Muslims, Christians, civilians, soldiers, policemen and other paramilitary personnel were all part of the casualties.”
Eid celebrations in the sleepy and dusty city of Damaturu were low key on Sunday.
Gudusu, a 58-year-old resident who lost a brother in the attacks, voiced outrage at Boko Haram, sobbing as prayers were offered for the sibling he buried on Saturday evening.
His family called off the celebrations but simply prayed and slaughtered a ram to mark Eid al-Adha, one of the most important feasts in the Muslim calendar.
“It’s a season of mourning and celebration at the same time,” said another resident Aisami Bundi.
“People are struggling to strike a balance between the merriment of the season and the losses the city has incurred from the attacks, especially the large number of people that have been killed,” he said.
Pope Benedict XVI appealed for an end to the violence, saying it did “not resolve problems but increases them, sowing hatred and divisions, even among the faithful.”
Boko Haram claimed Friday’s rampage and warned of further attacks.
Meantime, gunmen suspected of being members of Boko Haram on Sunday shot dead a police officer at his home as he returned from Eid morning prayers in Maiduguri, the sect’s base, local police chief Simeon Midenda told AFP.
Militants from Boko Haram, whose name means “Western Education Is Sin” in the regional Hausa language, have in the past targeted police and military, community and religious leaders, as well as politicians.
The sect, which wants to see the establishment of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria, staged an uprising which was brutally put down by security forces in 2009.