State Depart­ment is­sues warn­ing against travel to Nige­ria

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY GUY TAY­LOR

The State Depart­ment up­dated its travel warn­ing for Nige­ria this week, re­strict­ing travel by U.S. gov­ern­ment per­son­nel to north­ern parts of the West African na­tion and as­sert­ing the risk of “at­tacks against Western tar­gets in Nige­ria re­mains high.”

The warn­ing ar­rives days af­ter the shad­owy Is­lamist sect, Boko Haram, took re­spon­si­bil­ity for a sui­cide car­bomb­ing that killed three peo­ple and wounded 39 out­side a Chris­tian church in cen­tral Nige­ria.

The blast was the lat­est in a string of ter­ror­ist at­tacks claimed by Boko Haram and high­lighted ris­ing re­li­gious ten­sion be­tween Mus­lims and Chris­tians in the oil-rich yet im­pov­er­ished na­tion.

“Nige­ria is a multi-eth­nic, multi-re­li­gious so­ci­ety in which dif­fer­ent eth­nic and re­li­gious groups of­ten live in the same area,” the State Depart­ment travel warn­ing said, adding that the vi­o­lence is “ex­ac­er­bat­ing ten­sions along those lines.”

The warn­ing cites a host of at­tacks by Boko Haram dur­ing the past year, in­clud­ing the chore­ographed se­ries of car bomb­ings that hit Nige­rian law en­force­ment posts Jan. 20, and Au­gust’s sui­cide at­tack that killed 25 peo­ple at the U.N. head­quar­ters in Nige­ria.

The State Depart­ment notes that more than 150 Boko Haram mem­bers es­caped from a prison in cen­tral Nige­ria in Septem­ber 2010.

Some of them “may now be par­tic­i­pat­ing in at­tacks in other parts of the coun­try,” it said.

The up­dated warn­ing re­flects ris­ing U.S. con­cerns to­ward Boko Haram, par­tic­u­larly the group’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Nige­ria’s pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim north. It also notes dan­ger in sev­eral parts of the mainly Chris­tian south, where nonMus­lim mil­i­tants have a his­tory of stag­ing vi­o­lent at­tacks on Western-owned oil plat­forms.

State Depart­ment of­fi­cials have cau­tioned on back­ground against char­ac­ter­iz­ing Nige­ria’s vi­o­lence as purely driven by re­li­gious rage. They say the vi­o­lence is equally mo­ti­vated by cross­cul­tural frus­tra­tion over gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, and the fail­ure of Nige­ria’s na­tion’s oil wealth to im­prove the lives of Nige­ria’s im­pov­er­ished masses.

The rise of Boko Haram, how­ever, has drawn the at­ten­tion of in­ter­na­tional law-en­force­ment and coun­tert­er­ror­ism au­thor­i­ties dur­ing re­cent months.

Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of U.S. Africa Com­mand, has re­peat­edly cau­tioned about po­ten­tial links be­tween Boko Haram and more in­ter­na­tion­ally minded ter­ror­ist groups in the re­gion, specif­i­cally al Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb.

The State Depart­ment, mean­while, re­cently con­firmed re­ports that the FBI is as­sist­ing Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties in their at­tempts to respond to the vi­o­lence.

“A bomb tech­ni­cian has been in Nige­ria work­ing with the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment on the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the re­cent bomb­ings,” said Hi­lary F. Ren­ner, chief spokes­woman for the State Depart­ment’s Bureau of African Af­fairs.

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