An explosion and gunfire rocked an area near a mosque and market in northeasternNigeria on Friday, killing four people, residents said, but the military denied there was a blast and said two people had been shot dead by armed robbers.
The violence erupted after a series of Christmas Day attacks blamed on Islamist sect Boko Haram that killed at least 49 people, most of them outside a Catholic church near the capital Abuja, and triggered fears of reprisals by Christians.
Details of Friday’s incident remained unclear, with residents initially reporting a loudexplosion near a mosque in Maiduguri, a northeastern city that has borne the brunt ofviolence blamed on the Islamists.
Two residents said they later saw four dead bodies.
A spokesman for a military task force at first confirmed an explosion near the city’s main market, but later strongly denied there had been a blast, saying armed robbers had shotthree people and that soldiers were in pursuit.
Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Mohammed said several robbers had stormed a market in Maiduguri after Muslim prayers.
“In the course of trying to rob the traders, they gunned down three people,” he said, adding that two people had been killed and the third was critically ill in hospital.
He said the robbers may also be members of Boko Haram, which has been accused of carrying out armed robberies in the past to finance its activities.
A relief agency official in the city said on condition of anonymity that “many residents in Maiduguri said that they heard the blast that took place in Guddum area, behind the emir’s palace.
“But the (military task force) denied there was a blast,” the official said.
“A robbery took place in the central business district of Maiduguri and there were gunshots fired at the scene. Where the robbery took place is about a kilometre away from the scene of the blast.”
Nigeria’s security agencies have come under intense pressure to stop attacks by Boko Haram amid spiralling violence blamed on the group.
President Goodluck Jonathan met with his security chiefs for the second time in as many days in Abuja on Friday following suggestions that he may reshuffle his team.
Boko Haram has carried out scores of attacks in Nigeria, most of them in the northeast, and its targets have included Muslim leaders.
Thousands have fled Maiduguri fearing further attacks by Boko Haram and heavy-handedmilitary raids, with soldiers accused of killing civilians and burning their homes after bomb blasts.
Christian leaders have expressed mounting frustration over the Nigerian authorities’ inability to stop attacks that have killed hundreds of people this year.
They have said they will be forced to defend themselves if the authorities do not address the problem.
Amid the mounting concerns over reprisals, a bomb was thrown into an Arabic school on Tuesday in Delta state in southern Nigeria, wounding six children and an adult.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Violence had been raging even in the days before the Christmas Day bombings, especially in the northeastern cities of Damaturu, Potiskum and Maiduguri.
Another attack hit the northeast on Wednesday night, when gunmen opened fire and threw explosives at a hotel and open-air bar in the city of Gombe, wounding 15 people, the hotel manager said.
The motive for that attack was not clear, although Boko Haram has often targeted bars.
In Damaturu last week, suspected members of Boko Haram carried out attacks followed by a military crackdown that led to clashes. A rights group and police source said up to 100 people were feared dead in the violence.
An emergency official has said an estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in Damaturu.