KANO, Nigeria - The angry youths piled on top of the burned-out truck near a blood-spattered police station in Nigeria's north, alternating praises for the radical Islamist sect that bombed the precinct and promising to kill any officer who returned.
The crowd overran the station Wednesday morning following an attack there the previous night, apparently by the sect known as Boko Haram, which last week killed at least 185 people in a co-ordinated assault that struck several police stations in the country's second-largest city of Kano.
Their jubilation underscored a growing danger from Nigeria's exploding population: a swarming unemployed and undereducated youth across the north whose anger at Nigeria's corrupt and weak central government make them ready recruits for the sect and other radicals.
"The poorer Muslim north sees systemic bias in the provision of basic services and repeated incidents of police brutality," a recent report from Washington-based think-tank The Jamestown Foundation said.
Suspected members of Boko Haram surrounded the police station Tuesday night in the Sheka neighbourhood of the sprawling and dusty city of Kano, home to more than 9 million people. The gunmen ordered civilians to get off the street, then began chanting "God is great" as they threw homemade bombs into the station and sprayed it with assault rifle fire, witnesses said.
Associated Press journalists saw youths overrun the station Wednesday, as black soot and smoke charred its walls. Doors to jail cells stood open. Blood coated the floor of the local commander's private bathroom. Investigative files apparently rifled through by attackers or the crowd covered the floors.
Older men around the neighbourhood attempted to calm down the youths gathered there, with one trying to lock up the station while security forces remained nowhere to be seen. Most Muslims across Nigeria's north say they disapprove of Boko Haram, which claimed the assault Friday in Kano that killed at least 185 people.
"We are not satisfied with what is happening now," said 26-year-old Abubakar Muawuya. Our leaders "have to call this Boko Haram and sit down with them."
But the group there remained jubilant, repeatedly beating on the burned-out truck. Cheering youths waved an officer's uniform and others jumped up and down on the truck, with one wearing a police ballistic helmet.
Some also ominously asked journalists visiting the site if they were Christians.
Nigeria's youth represent what a British Council report last year described as a looming "demographic disaster" for Africa's most populous nation. Estimates in the report suggest Nigeria's population of more than 160 million people will swell by another 53 million people by 2050. And while the country makes billions from producing oil, agriculture and other vocations have wilted away, meaning fewer jobs for the growing population where many earn less than $2 a day without access to electricity or clean drinking water.
Illiteracy remains high as an education gap grows wider — children have access to better schooling in the Christian-majority south compared to those in the Muslim north, the report said. Analysts worry that will give extremist groups like Boko Haram fertile grounds to grow as well.
Boko Haram wants to implement strict Shariah law and avenge the deaths of Muslims in communal violence across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people split largely into a Christian south and Muslim north. The group, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, has now killed at least 262 people in 2012, more than half of the at least 510 people the sect killed in all of 2011, according to an Associated Press count.
On Wednesday, Niger's foreign minister Mohamed Bazoum said the sect received training and weapons from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaida's north Africa branch.
"There is no doubt the two organizations are connected and that they have the same objective of destabilizing our region," he said.
So far, Nigeria's weak and corruption-riddled central government has been unable to stop Boko Haram's increasingly bloody attacks. On Wednesday, President Goodluck Jonathan placed the federal police's top official on "terminal leave" following the Kano attacks. Inspector Gen. Hafiz Ringim remained in the top position in the police force and was given a national honour recently despite the unrelenting attacks.
A statement from the presidency also said Jonathan "approved the retirement" of all deputy inspector generals of police and appointed a committee to look at ways of reforming a police force still organized much like the British colonial government left it.
However, it remains unclear what can be done to salvage a police force where more than a fourth of its officers serve as assistants and drivers to the country's elite, while many of the rest extort motorists at checkpoints. Ringim himself was due to retire anyway in several months.
Associated Press writers Ahmed Mohamed in Nouakchott, Mauritania and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.