Anxiety Grows in Abuja as Fear of Terror Attack Looms

Nigerian security forces dismantled a terror cell and arrested 35 suspected members of the militant group Islamic State West Africa Province, including five commanders, Nigerian daily newspapers reported Friday.

Abuja, the capital, remained on guard, with some shops closing temporarily as a precaution.

Australian and Canadian embassies in the city were the latest to issue terror warnings; U.S. and British embassies on Sunday had told their citizens to be on alert and avoid crowds across Nigeria but especially in Abuja.

The foreign missions said government buildings, places of worship, schools, markets, shopping malls, bars and hotels were among possible terrorist targets.

The U.S. State Department ordered family members of U.S. employees to leave the Nigerian capital.

Security guards patrolled Friday near a huge shopping complex in Abuja’s Jabi district. The complex had closed Thursday because of security threats.

Workers and shoppers were not allowed into the premises, and the street was blocked off to car and foot traffic.

Abuja Police Public Relations Officer Josephine Adeh said authorities were stepping up security measures.

“We’re doing all we can. … We’ve strengthened our security, even though there’s no cause for concern, no cause for alarm. We don’t have any threat in our country,” she said.

Concerns about terror attacks have been growing in Nigeria. Militant groups have been pushing their operations beyond bases where they have been active for years.

In June, authorities blamed Islamic State West Africa Province for a church attack in southwest Nigeria that killed 40 worshippers.

One month later, the group claimed responsibility for attacking a correctional facility in Abuja and freeing hundreds of inmates. While hundreds of the escapees have been recaptured, many others remain on the loose, including more than 60 high-profile terror suspects.

Security analyst Chidi Omeje said authorities were trying to assure citizens of their safety.

“Our government on its part, naturally you should expect them to play down the situation,” Omeje said. “Every government would like to project a good image of itself.”

But Omeje said citizens must take the foreign missions’ warnings very seriously.

“Citizens must at this point begin to think for themselves what to do, because I don’t want to believe that America, the U.K. and all other countries who have come up with this alert are just being mischievous. These are countries that have robust intelligence assets. We should not play with what they’re informing us.”

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