Nigeria tightens security for Eid

2012-08-17 22:17

Abuja - Nigeria tightened security and the United States warned of the risk of attacks Friday ahead of this weekend's Eid festivities, which mark the end of the Muslim month of fasting.

Nigeria, struggling with a deadly insurgency by Islamist militants Boko Haram, advised residents to be on alert and boosted patrols, while the US embassy in a statement recalled a suicide attack on the UN in Abuja a year ago and warned that "an anniversary security event could occur".

A centuries-old Eid festival in the major northern city of Kano, famed for its elaborate horse pageant, has been cancelled, officially due to the local emir's health, but residents suspected the worsening violence was to blame.

In the volatile central city of Jos, authorities declared off-limits two main prayer grounds that have been hit by violence in the past over security concerns, but said alternative locations were available.

The authorities' moves were an indication of how badly security has deteriorated in northern and central Nigeria, where Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths since 2010.

Nigeria's national police chief urged the public to share tips with officers, something many people have been reluctant to do out of fear of both Boko Haram and the authorities, who have been accused of abuses.

The statement said the force had been directed "to take adequate measures to ensure the provision of water-tight security across the country before, during and after the celebration".

In a security message, the US embassy evoked the 26 August 2011 suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja which killed at least 25 people and warned of possible fresh attacks.

"This year, extremists have attacked many locations in Nigeria, killing and injuring hundreds of people," the statement said.

This weekend's Muslim Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations, often called Sallah in Nigeria, mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Monday and Tuesday have also been declared public holidays.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, is divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south, though most major cities are mixed.

Boko Haram's deadliest attack yet hit Kano in January when coordinated bombings and shootings killed at least 185 people, and authorities there said they had taken precautions.

"In Kano, we are on the streets... For these upcoming Muslim celebrations, JTF (military Joint Task Force) will do everything, security-wise, to ensure a hitch-free festivity," spokesman Lieutenant Iweha Ikedichi told AFP.

In Maiduguri, where Boko Haram has been based, the military was on high alert.

"We have put in place adequate security arrangements to ensure a crisis-free Sallah festivity," spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa told AFP.

Boko Haram's targets have widened as the group has moved from assassinations to sophisticated bombings, including suicide attacks.

Members are believed to have sought training in northern Mali from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Western nations have been monitoring closely for signs of further links.

While Muslims have often been its victims, the sect has recently specifically targeted churches, and President Goodluck Jonathan has accused the group of seeking to provoke a religious crisis in the country.

The group is believed to include a number of factions with varying goals, and many analysts say deep poverty and a lack of development in Nigeria's north have been key factors in fueling the insurgency.

In June, the United States labelled suspected Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and two other militants as "global terrorists", allowing any US assets they may have to be blocked.