The November 28 attack on worshippers at Kano’s Central Mosque killed at least 130, according to the Nigerian media. No group has claimed responsibility, though most observers appear to think it was Boko Haram.
Kano is the largest and most important city in northern Nigeria, with perhaps three million inhabitants. It has been a major trading city for more than one thousand years. It has an international airport. It is also perhaps Nigeria’s pre-eminent center of Islamic culture and scholarship. Its emir, at present former Central Bank governor Lamido Sanussi, is usually ranked among the top three Nigerian Muslim traditional rulers by protocol. Its governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, is widely viewed as successful. Some of my Nigerian interlocutors see him as a possible opposition candidate for the presidency in 2015.
Kano has also long been a center of Islamic radicalism. It was a center of operations for Ansaru, a group that broke with Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram centered in Borno and the city of Maiduguri. Ansaru objected that Shekau was killing too many innocent Muslims. Ansaru had been silent for many months but, has apparently issued a statement of condolence for the victims of the Kano bombing. It is plausible that the Kano attack was carried out by a local group with the same outlook as Shekau but not under his direct control. Shekau usually claims responsibility for big operations, such as Kano, but often there is a time lag. If he does claim responsibility in the next several days, that will indicate that his brand of Boko Haram is indeed now active in Kano.
The attack on the Central Mosque should, I think, be seen as a direct challenge to both the secular state, symbolized by Governor Kwankwaso, and the traditional Islamic establishment, symbolized by Emir Lamido Sanussi. The Emir may himself see it that way; on Saturday he led the prayers at the Central Mosque and in remarks is reported as saying that Muslims will not be intimidated into abandoning Islam. So, the Emir posits establishment Islam as the true Islam. The Islamic radicals called Boko Haram claim that theirs is the true Islam. Among other things, the struggle in northeast Nigeria is a civil war within Islam.
The Kano attack highlights one of the many unknowns about Boko Haram. How centralized is it? To what extent is it a decentralized, grass-roots rebellion only loosely under the leadership of Shekau?