Nigeria Bombing Suspects Arrested

Published 7 years ago by: Paddy Hayes
at 06:40 PM, 27/12/2011 (7 years ago)

(3516 | Gistmaniac) (m)

LAGOS, Nigeria (NYTimes) — As Nigerian officials announced arrests Monday in connection with the deadly bombing of a church on Christmas Day, American officials and analysts said the violence underscored the increasing ability of a shadowy Islamist insurgency to carry out complex strikes against multiple targets, complicating the fight against it.

Nigeria’s national security adviser, Owoeye Azazi, said that two men had been arrested in conjunction with the bombing, and that they were suspected of being members of the Boko Haram sect, which claimed responsibility for attack. They were “caught in the act,” he said.

Mr. Azazi said three suspects had driven past the church in Madala, on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, throwing a bomb into the church “from a moving vehicle in the glare of everyone.” One of the men died in the explosion, he said.

Mr. Azazi’s version contradicted some earlier accounts of the blast. Local news media had quoted witnesses as saying that a lone suicide bomber drove into the church and detonated the explosive. The National Emergency Management Agency said the death toll from the blast had risen to 26, with hospitals struggling to save the lives of the remaining survivors.

The attack was the most devastating of what appeared to be a string of coordinated assaults around the country over the weekend, including strikes on at least two churches in other towns and a police headquarters in the north.

While Boko Haram has long struck at the police — andmore recently at the United Nations — the attacks during the Christmas holiday raised fears that the group was trying to exploit Nigeria’s religious differences to incite violence between Christians and Muslims, a persistent problem for the country.

The president of the Nigerian Senate, David Mark, condemned the violence as a declaration of war on law-abiding citizens of Nigeria. “This is absurd and totally intolerable,” he said in a statement Monday. “This is not part of our culture or way of life.”

American military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials have voiced alarm in recent months about the growing operational abilities of Boko Haram and its potential ties to Al Qaeda’s affiliates in North Africa, Yemen and Somalia.

“There’s no reason to doubt Boko Haram’s claim,” Gen. Carter F. Ham, who leads the American military’s Africa Command, said in an e-mail Monday.  “All the characteristics fit their profile. Sadly, these attacks are wholly consistent with Boko Haram’s increasingly violent ideology.  I remain greatly concerned about their stated intent to connect with Al Qaeda senior leadership, most likely through Al Qaeda in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb.”

General Ham met in August with Nigerian military and security officials, saying the United States would be willing to share intelligence and offer training to Nigerian security forces.

In September, General Ham said that three African terrorist organizations — the Shabab in Somalia, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel region of northern Africa and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria — “have very explicitly and publicly voiced an intent to target Westerners, and the U.S. specifically.”

General Ham said that he was particularly worried about “the voiced intent of the three organizations to more closely collaborate and synchronize their efforts.”

Defense Department officials said in mid-September that a large car bomb detonated in August by Boko Haram militants bore signature elements of the improvised explosives used by the Qaeda offshoot in the Sahel.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, came to national prominence in 2009, when its members attacked police stations near its base of Maiduguri, a dusty northeastern city on the cusp of the Sahara Desert. Nigeria’s military violently suppressed the attack, crushing the sect’s mosque into shards and arresting its leader, who died in police custody.

About 700 people died during the violence, and many analysts and residents say the Nigerian government’s heavy-handed response has frequently worsened the situation, killing civilians and helping the group recruit new volunteers to its cause.

American officials said the group initially carried out small-scale, hit-and-run assassinations from the back of motorbikes after the 2009 riot. But in the past year, Boko Haram has demonstrated a newfound sophistication and planning of larger-scale attacks. It claimed responsibility for a Nov. 4 attack on Damaturu, Yobe state’s capital, which killed more than 100. The group also claimed the Aug. 24 suicide car bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital that killed 24 people and wounded 116 others.

It has engineered other daring attacks, including the June bombing of Nigeria’s federal police headquarters, the assassination of a prominent politician and a prison break that freed more than 700 inmates.

Musikilu Mojeed reported from Lagos, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Souad Mekhennet contributed reporting from Frankfurt, Germany

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