Boko Haram may be planning Nigeria attacks, says US

The US embassy in Nigeria warned on Wednesday that extremist group Boko Haram may be planning attacks against hotels or other areas in the capital Abuja, but the government sought to downplay the concerns.

“The US embassy has received information that Boko Haram may be planning attacks in Abuja, Nigeria, including against hotels frequently visited by Westerners,” an emergency message to US citizens on its website said.

“The US government has no additional information regarding the timing of these possible attacks. The Nigerian government is aware of the threat and is actively implementing security measures.”

It gave no further information on the threats.

Nigerian police said they were not aware of any “special threat” of attack, while the country’s information minister downplayed the US warning and advised against causing panic.

The US issued a similar message in November that drew harsh criticism in Nigeria. No attacks occurred in Abuja in the wake of the November warning.

Credible information
A US diplomat at the time said the warning was based on specific and credible information, adding that the embassy had no choice but to warn American citizens.

The extreme Boko Haram sect has carried out scores of attacks, mainly in Nigeria’s predominately Muslim north, that have killed more than 1 000 people since mid-2009.

It claimed responsibility for the August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja which claimed at least 25 lives.

The group’s deadliest attack yet occurred in the northern city of Kano in January, when coordinated bombings and shootings left at least 185 people dead.

Nigerian Information Minister Labaran Maku said there was no cause for alarm.

“Whereas we believe that every country has a duty to secure its citizens and take decisions that will ensure the safety of their nationals, we have always appealed to such embassies and agencies not to create public panic in our country,” the minister said.

He added that “our security agencies have over the last year increased their capacity to respond to some of the threats, particularly within this city and several other cities.”

Heavy-handed raids
Despite heavy-handed raids and a number of high-profile arrests, Nigerian authorities have appeared unable to stop attacks blamed on Boko Haram.

An attempt to hold indirect talks between Boko Haram and the government in March collapsed after a mediator quit over leaks to the media and the extremists said they could not trust government officials.

Authorities blamed the deaths of a British and an Italian hostage in north-western Nigeria in March on a faction of Boko Haram. A spokesperson for what is believed to be the main branch of the group denied any involvement.

US ambassador to Nigeria Terence McCulley recently urged Nigeria to focus on development in its impoverished north as well as security to bring an end to the deadly attacks.

Analysts say poverty and frustration in the north have pushed young people toward extremism.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer with some 160-million people, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

The oil-producing south is wealthier and more educated, stoking resentment in the north. — Sapa-AFP

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