Senior cleric says Nigeria blasts meant to divide country

The powerful religious leader of Nigeria's Kano state said Thursday that a suicide attack which killed 41 people this week at a bus park was intended to inflame tensions between Muslims and Christians.

The Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, officially the number two Islamic leader in Nigeria and himself targeted in a recent failed assassination bid, met with a delegation led by the interior minister after the Monday blasts in the city of Kano.

While northern Nigeria, where Kano is the largest city, is mainly Muslim, the suicide bombers targeted a heavily Christian neighbourhood and a bus park that services passengers heading to the mostly Christian south.

"The attack will be translated into an attack by people from this part of the country against those from the south," Bayero told the delegation at his palace.

"It appears some people are bent on causing problems between our people and the people from the south who have been living harmoniously for a long time," added Bayero.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it resembled those previously blamed on Islamist group Boko Haram, who have said they are waging a deadly insurgency to create an Islamic state in the north.

Boko Haram has previously attacked churches in the north, but the group has also targeted the security services, other symbols of authority and prominent Islamic leaders.

In January, gunmen opened fire on the emir's convoy, in a raid which killed five people, while Bayero escaped unharmed. It was the third recent attack on a top cleric.

Boko Haram has voiced opposition to Nigeria's traditional Islamic leaders, whom the group accuses of heresy for cooperation with a secular government.

Interior Minister Abba Moro assured that the government would continue to combat the Islamist insurgency, echoing a message offered Monday by President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been widely criticised for his handling of the Boko Haram unrest.

Earlier this month, Nigeria's top Muslim leader, the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, called on Jonathan to offer amnesty to all Islamist insurgents in hopes of ending the violence.

Jonathan rebuffed that call saying it was impossible to make a deal with a group that refuses to show itself in public, calling the Islamists "ghosts".

The Boko Haram insurgency is estimated to have left 3,000 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces.