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Two dead in Nigerian suicide attacks

By Aminu Abubakar

KANO, Nigeria (AFP) - Suicide bombings at two police stations Monday killed at least two people in the northwestern Nigerian city of Sokoto, the historic seat of Islam in the country, officials and residents said.

Boko Haram Islamists, responsible for scores of deadly gun and bomb attacks in recent monthsy, are suspected of having hideouts in Sokoto, but the group has rarely struck within the city.

A Red Cross official said the explosions at the Yan Marina police station in the city centre and the Unguwar Rogo station were both caused by suicide bombers.

"A policeman and woman were killed in the bombings. Thirty people were injured, mostly around the market in the Yan Marina neighbourhood," said the official who requested anonymity.

Yan Marina resident Usman Bube said the area was "engulfed in flames".

"There was a huge explosion about an hour ago at the police station that was followed by thick smoke," Bube told AFP. "It is so chaotic now, with people running to safety."

A senior police officer, who did not want to be identified, said the bomber approached the station in a vehicle packed with explosives and was denied entry at the security gate, where the vehicle then blew up.

Lawai Danfili, who lives near the Unguwar Rogo station, said residents raced into their homes following the attacks.

"We had a loud explosion around the police station. The impact of the explosion shook houses in the area. We all moved indoors," he said.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted police across northern Nigeria, where most of its attacks have been carried out.

The city is home to Nigeria's top Islamic leader, Mohammed Sa'ad Abubakar, the current Sultan of Sokoto.

The radical Islamist group has long stated its loathing for Nigeria's traditional Muslim leaders, saying they have betrayed the faith by subjecting themselves to the country's secular government.

Boko Haram has said it wants to create an Islamic state in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, where, in the pre-colonial era, there was a powerful Islamic empire headquartered in Sokoto.

Most residents in Nigeria's southern half are Christians, and some analysts have warned that Boko Haram is trying to spark a religious war in Africa's most populous country.

In May, gunmen accused of being Boko Haram members shot at a building near the Yan Marina police station, killing one officer and a civilian.

A Briton and an Italian were killed in the city in March during a failed attempt to free them from their kidnappers. They were believed to have been shot by their captors before they could be rescued.

Boko Haram, which regularly claims attacks in statements sent to journalists, denied involvement in the kidnapping and local leaders also insisted it was not responsible for killing the two Europeans.

The group has claimed the deaths of more than 1,000 people in attacks since mid-2009 and three of its top leaders have been designated as global terrorists by the United States.

On Sunday, two Nigerian leaders, former president Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, called for talks to end the deadly Boko Haram insurgency, in a rare joint statement by the one-time rivals.

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