U.S. still on high alert for Nigeria attacks

Thu Nov 22, 2012 12:33pm EST
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By Joe Brock

ABUJA (Reuters) - The United States remains on high alert attacks on its interests in Nigeria by Islamists, even though they have not mounted any major operations for months, the U.S. ambassador said on Thursday.

Ambassador Terence McCulley also told Reuters that unrest in northern Mali made it easier for Nigeria's Islamist sect Boko Haram to link up with outside jihadist groups, including al Qaeda's north African wing.

"We're still on a pretty high state of alert. There are potential targets of opportunity so ... we need to be careful," McCulley said in an interview in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

Boko Haram is fighting to impose Islamic, or sharia, law on Nigeria, whose population of 160 million people is split evenly between Christians and Muslims.

At least 2,800 people have died in fighting in the largely Muslim north since the sect launched an uprising against the government in 2009, watchdog group Human Rights Watch says.

McCulley alluded to a bombing claimed by Boko Haram of the Nigeria headquarters of the United Nations in August 2011, killing 24 people, and the kidnappings and killings of one British, one Italian and one German citizen earlier this year.

Although Boko Haram itself denied any involvement in the kidnappings, they were thought to be the work of other Islamist groups with links to the sect.

"That is clear evidence that if there are targets of opportunity they will seize them. They are working contrary to our interests and other Western interests," McCulley said.   Continued...