There was some form of regular communication between Osama bin Laden and the Boko Haram sect, documents recovered from the Pakistan house of the slain al-Qaeda leader have revealed.
This effectively confirms the suspected external link to the Nigerian fundamentalist group, which again struck at the Bayero University Kano Sunday, killing two professors and 15 others at two church services.
The Boko Haram militants also struck last night at a church in Jere, near Maiduguri, Borno State, killing three persons.
According to a report in the Guardian of London, bin Laden appeared to have been in direct or indirect communication with Boko Haram as well as many other militant outfits.
The question of whether Boko Haram, which has been responsible for a series of suicide attacks and bombings in the last year, is in touch with al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates had been hotly debated by analysts, according to the newspaper.
“But documents in the cache show that leaders of the Nigerian group had been in contact with top levels of al-Qaeda in the past 18 months – confirming claims made to the Guardian in January by a senior Boko Haram figure,” the newspaper wrote.
A Boko Haram spokesman had boasted after the attacks on Police Headquarters in Abuja last year that the group had just trained a generation of suicide bombers in Somalia in what was seen then as a direct link to al-Shaabab, a Somali terrorist group aligned to al-Qaeda.
Boko Haram is also believed to be working with Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), based in Algeria.
Witnesses to Sunday’s Kano carnage said one of the services was being held outdoors, while the second was inside a building, but with an overflow audience outside.
An AFP correspondent counted six bullet-riddled bodies near one of the two sites, while another dozen bodies could be seen on a roadside by the university.
Witnesses told THISDAY “at least” 13 persons were killed and several others sustained injuries in the attacks.
An official of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) put the number of the dead at “no fewer than 17”.
University authorities put the figure at seven, while the names of the professors were given as Jerome Ayodele (Department of Chemistry) and Andrew Leo Ogbonyomi (Library Science).
Musical instruments and half-eaten meals were seen at the site of one of the services after the attacks.
Witnesses said the attackers arrived in a car and two motorcycles, opening fire and throwing homemade bombs, causing a stampede. Worshippers were then gunned down as they sought to flee.
“They first attacked the open-air service outside the faculty of medicine," one witness said. "They threw in explosives and fired shots, causing a stampede among worshippers. They now pursued them, shooting them with guns... They also attacked another service at the sporting complex."
A witness, who said he was at the sporting complex at the time of the attack, reported hearing gunshots outside while they were praying.
"Then there was pandemonium," he said, adding that he later saw two men outside shooting indiscriminately.
AFP reported that a crowd of people later gathered at a Kano hospital waiting to hear news about friends or family.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although the attack was similar to others carried out by Boko Haram.
Immediately after yesterday’s attacks, soldiers cordoned off the campus, denying emergency agencies access to the blast scenes to administer first-aid treatment on the wounded.
Journalists were also denied access to the campus. It was the same story at the Mallam Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and Murtala Muhammed Specialist Hospital where the victims were taken.
BUK spokesman, Mustapha Zaharadeen, told THISDAY: “Yes, I can officially confirm to you that seven persons were killed by the blast and scores of people sustained injuries.”
Spokesman of the Joint military Task Force (JTF), Lieutenant Ikedichi, said military operatives had been deployed in the area to restore order, but declined to give details of the causality figures.
The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kano State Chapter, Bishop Ransom Bello, described the attack as “barbaric”.
The state Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso described the attack as “unfortunate and sad”.
The governor, who cut short an official trip to Abuja to visit the scene of the incident, lamented that such a painful thing was happening at a time peace was gradually returning to the state capital following sporadic attacks by suspected militia men.
Over 180 persons were killed in attacks on the city on January 20.
Kwankwaso said the state and federal governments would continue to work hard to ensure that peace and harmony prevailed among residents of the state.
He also said the state government had made arrangements with public and private hospitals in the state to ensure that victims of such incident were treated and that the government would foot the medical bills.
BUK’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Prof. Yahuza Bello, who conducted the governor round, explained that some of the worshippers were attacked in an indoor sports hall at the old campus of the university, which they use temporarily as their place of worship.
Bello added that the second group of worshippers was attacked while conducting their service in an open space outside the Dandatti Abdulkadir Theatre, which they hitherto used, but which is currently undergoing renovation.
The Jere incident led to the death of the pastor and two worshippers.
It was gathered that the members of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) had gathered in the evening to conduct the Holy Communion service in a town that is under the state of emergency.
Witnesses said they had gone halfway through the service before some gunmen believed to be members of Boko Haram brought their message of doom.
The witnesses said they came in their trademark car, Volkswagen Golf, dressed in flowing gowns and, after their routine shout of “Allah akbar”, went into the church and headed straight for the altar and shot the ministering pastor whose name was given as Rev. Albert Naga .
Though many of the worshippers took to their heels, the sect members were not done until they killed two other persons at the church.
After that, they shot sporadically into the air and went the way they came without any form of restrain. Spokesman of the Police, ASP Samuel Tizhe, confirmed the killings.
Meanwhile, the Guardian of London also reported that documents found in the house where bin Laden was killed a year ago showed a close working relationship between top al-Qaeda leaders and Mullah Omar, the overall commander of the Taliban, “including frequent discussions of joint operations against Nato forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan government and targets in Pakistan”.
The communications show a three-way conversation between bin Laden, his then deputy Ayman Zawahiri and Omar, who is believed to have been in Pakistan since fleeing Afghanistan after the collapse of his regime in 2001.
They indicate a "very considerable degree of ideological convergence", a Washington-based source familiar with the documents told the Guardian.
This would undermine hopes of a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, where the key debate among analysts and policymakers is whether the Taliban – seen by many as following an Afghan nationalist agenda – might once again offer a safe haven to al-Qaeda or like-minded militants, or whether they can be persuaded to renounce terrorism.
One possibility, experts said, is that although Omar built a strong relationship with bin Laden and Zawahiri, other senior Taliban commanders see close alliance or co-operation with al-Qaeda as deeply problematic.
Western intelligence officials estimate that there are less than 100 al-Qaida-linked fighters in Afghanistan, and last year the United Nations split its sanctions list to separate the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Both David Cameron and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton have said that some kind of political settlement involving the Taliban is key to the stability of Afghanistan once most western troops have withdrawn by 2014.
Some communications in the documents date back several years but others are said to be from only weeks before the raid on May 2 last year in which bin Laden died.
"Questions and issues come up. They don't see eye to eye on everything but it's clear they understand they have an interest in co-operating [on attacks against Nato, Afghan government and Pakistani targets]," the source said. "Of those engaged in the conversation, two [Zawahiri and Omar] are still alive today and there is no reason to believe that either has substantially changed his views in the last year."
Zawahiri became leader of al-Qaida following bin Laden's death.
Other papers in the haul are now likely to be declassified. They include memos apparently dictated by bin Laden urging followers to avoid indiscriminate attacks which kill Muslims and pondering a rebranding of al-Qaeda under a new name.