Nigeria’s national security adviser on Monday dismissed a weekend warning from the United States of an Islamist bomb threat to luxury hotels in the capital as “not news”, and said it was spreading unnecessary panic.
The U.S. embassy had warned its citizens and Nigerians on Sunday advising they should avoid three hotels in Abuja, which it said could be target of massive bombing this week,
The warning came as the nation counts the dead of last weekend attack which result in the death of over 100 people as Islamist militants struck in a coordinated gun and bomb attacks in the northern city of Damaturu last Friday.
The group claimed responsibility for the violence that left bodies littering the streets and police stations in ruins.
“The (U.S. statement) is eliciting unhealthy public anxiety and generating avoidable tension,” said Owoeye Andrew Azazi, Nigeria’s national security adviser.
“The … government wants to advise members of the public that it (will) continue to ensure security of lives and property under its jurisdiction.”
The U.S. embassy insist that it had “received information that Boko Haram may plan to attack several locations and hotels in Abuja,” this week and that “targets may include the Nicon Luxury, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Transcorp Hilton Hotel.”
Azazi dismissed this as old information as the hotels have always been seen as one of the most obvious targets for Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”. He said rumours the hotels could be targeted are often circulated.
But American diplomat said Tuesday the warnings had been given based on specific and credible information .
The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not reveal the source of the information regarding potential attacks by Islamist sect Boko Haram, but said the US embassy had no choice but to warn its citizens.
“We certainly took it very seriously,” the diplomat said of the information included in its advisory.
“Given the specificity and the credibility of the threat, we really felt we had no choice but to give our best counsel to Americans.”
Security has been put on high alert in the capital Abuja which was last hit in August when a suicide bomber attacked UN headquarters, killing 24 people.
The Nigerian ThisDay newspaper quoted a senior security official chief calling the US warning “insulting to us as a nation.”
The US diplomat said the embassy did not consult with the Nigerian government before issuing its advisory as it had wanted to act as soon as possible to warn US citizens.
“The US embassy has received information that Boko Haram may plan to attack several locations and hotels in Abuja, Nigeria, during the Sallah holiday,” the advisory said.
“Potential targets may include the Nicon Luxury, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Transcorp Hilton Hotel.”
Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), also referred to as Sallah in Nigeria, was marked on Sunday, but Monday and Tuesday were also public holidays.
The diplomat spoke of Boko Haram’s “increasingly sophisticated, increasingly lethal” attacks in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer.
“I think it’s a trend which we’ve seen over the past year,” he said.
There has been intense speculation over whether the group has formed links with foreign extremists, such as Al-Qaeda’s north African branch.
The diplomat said there had been signs of individual links, such as Boko Haram members seeking training in foreign countries, but no proof of operational ties.
“The evolution of the group unquestionably though has made it clear that we need to step up our security procedures.” he said
On Tuesday in the northeastern city of Damaturu, the main target of Friday’s deadly attacks, residents recounted harrowing details.
The violence, including a number of suicide bombers, badly damaged police headquarters in the city as well as an anti-terrorism unit building, while half a dozen churches were bombed.