US warns of militant attacks on Nigerian luxury hotels

The US embassy in Nigeria warned Sunday that Boko Haram has planned an attack on Nigerian luxury hotels in the capital, signaling a possible expansion of the Islamist group's uprising.

Nigerian Television Authority/AP
In this image made from television released by the state-run Nigerian Television Authority Sunday, Nov. 6, a damaged building is seen in Damatura, Nigeria, following a series of coordinated attacks Friday that killed at least 69 people and left a new police headquarters in ruins, government offices burned and symbols of state power destroyed.

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Nigerians in the capital of Abuja are anxiously watchful today after a warning from US Embassy in Nigeria Sunday that three luxury hotels frequented by foreigners and wealthy Nigerians may be the next target of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.

The warning comes after a violent weekend in the country's northeast, where the group is based. Widespread attacks Friday killed more than 100 people, the Associated Press reports, and were followed with the stabbing of a local police officer Sunday. While violence has been a regular occurrence in the northeast, attacks in the capital, located squarely in the center of the country (see map), have been sporadic.

More frequent attacks there – a strong possibility, if the group's threats are to be believed – would signal a geographical expansion in their uprising. Boko Haram – which aims to spread strict Islamic law throughout Nigeria, divided between the predominantly Christian south and predominantly Muslim north – attacked the United Nations headquarters in Abuja in August, killing 24, and the federal police headquarters in June.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting Nigerian newspaper The Daily Trust, reports that Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa said, "More attacks are on the way. We will continue attacking federal government formations until security forces stop their excesses on our members and vulnerable civilians."

Amid the warnings and spate of weekend attacks, the Nigerian government is still downplaying the threat that Boko Haram faces, the Associated Press reports. President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian hailing from the country's south, said in a national television address Sunday, "we still have incidents happening here or there." Defense Minister Mohammed Bello said "a lot of progress" has been made in the northeast and that security forces and police were "doing very well in containing the situation."

According to the AP, the government has a history of allowing tensions to escalate before responding.

Nigeria’s history, however, shows the government often waits until crises escalate out of control before responding with harsh military crackdowns. In 1980, the government suppressed a radical Muslim sect called the Maitatsine only after its members rioted, with the violence and subsequent crackdown leaving 4,000 dead.

In a commentary for the Nigerian Tribune, Kingsley Ogbeide-Ihama writes that Boko Haram's motivations are not truly religious, but political, and borne of their region's marginalization by the government. After years of being ignored, they have turned to violence because it is the only way to get the Nigerian government to address their grievances, he writes. He starts off by quoting a line from James Hadley Chase's book, "Want to Stay Alive?", in which the antagonist describes his formula of using fear to extort money.

… “Fear is the key that unlocks the wallets and handbags of the rich.” Truly, without being equivocal, “Fear” is a very potent instrument in eliciting attention.

Sadly too, this is the only pattern that gets the attention of Nigeria’s ruling class. It was only sometime ago, when members of the National Assembly were putting questions to the ministerial nominees that we saw what seem like concern for the average Nigerian, who can hardly afford the kerosene with which he cooks his daily meals. But if it had come to the knowledge of the ruling class, that kerosene was an essential product in manufacturing the explosives used by the Boko Haram, only then would mobile policemen and indeed the soldiers, had been drafted to escort each tanker load of kerosene to the bedroom of Nigerians.

He notes that the saga of the Niger Delta rebel group, which waged its own violent rebellion against the central government, supports Boko Haram's perception that violence pays.

The continued sustenance of that agitation was not fueled by the peoples’ likeness for trouble-making or the audacious demand for resource control, but rather, it was hinged on the gradual understanding that no recourse would be meaningful, except the one that threatens the peace of the ruling class.

We can hereabout present a catalogue of the many issues that ought to elicit a national concern, but unfortunately, it is the ones which employ “the formula for fear” that get attention. This is what the members of Boko Haram have come to adopt. Presupposing the Niger Delta only got attended to after they became violent.

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