Nigeria's weary capital city shrugs off new attack warning
4/19/2012 7:10:04 PM -
ABUJA (AFP) - Nigeria's beleaguered capital city, already groaning under tight security, again faced threats on Thursday following a US warning that Islamist group Boko Haram may be planning fresh attacks.
However, Abuja residents and foreigners who visit regularly have long learned to live with security checks and queues of cars waiting to be searched at prominent spots, and many shrugged off the new warning, saying life must go on.
The US embassy warned on Wednesday that Boko Haram, which has carried out scores of attacks in Nigeria, including a suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja in August that left 25 dead, may be planning fresh attacks in the capital.
According to the emergency message to US citizens, hotels frequented by Westerners may be among the targets.
"I'm not scared," said Charlie Wells, an American checking out of the Sheraton hotel after a three-week business visit.
"It seems the security has been handled very well. I understand there have been threats before that never materialised or were handled. I hope it will be that way again."
The United States issued a similar warning in November that drew harsh criticism in Nigeria.
No attacks occurred in Abuja in the wake of the November warning -- though a long list of attacks have happened elsewhere, including a Christmas day bombing at a church near the capital that killed 44 people.
Nigerian authorities' have appeared unable to stop the attacks.
On Wednesday, Nigerian police said they were not aware of any "special threat" of attack, while the country's information minister downplayed the US warning and advised against causing panic.
There were no visible differences in the security arrangements in Abuja after the US warning, though there may have been behind-the-scenes measures.
The US embassy said Thursday the warning was based on new and specific information.
"The US mission in Abuja received new, specific information that Boko Haram may be planning attacks," the embassy said in a statement in response to questions from AFP.
"The Nigerian government is aware of the threat and we are in touch with Nigerian officials. The embassy remains on heightened alert."
Nigerian officials said that security has been tight in the capital for months due to the threats posed by the Islamists -- and getting around the city has indeed been more complicated than it used to be.
Checkpoints have been mounted on the city's outskirts, and a security check that had been in place at the gate of Abuja's airport led to long queues of vehicles and nervous would-be travelers worried about missing their flights.
Entering the grounds of hotels such as the Hilton -- the capital's most prominent and which is frequented by politicians and foreigners -- can require patience, with cars being examined by guards wielding bomb-detectors.
"We are constantly in a state of alert for obvious reasons," said Shola Adeyemo, spokesman for the Transcorp Hilton, as the Abuja hotel is known.
Asked whether the Hilton specifically had received any threat, he said, "obviously there are things you don't discuss in the public," adding that security measures were continuously reviewed.
Ayodeji Adesoye, a Nigerian accountant attending a meeting at the Sheraton, said he was disappointed that Nigerian authorities were not the ones issuing warnings instead of foreign embassies.
"It leaves a lot to be desired of our own security operatives if it is US security agencies that will be alerting us of the possible threat of Boko Haram," he said.
"This information should come from them. They should ensure they protect the lives of the citizens."
However, Princewill Utchay, a Nigerian guest at the Hilton, was sanguine.
"This is a five-star hotel. They must have their security apparatus on alert," he said. "There are similar things like this all over the world. I'm sure they are equal to the task."
Ron Phillips, an American guest at the Hilton, said security issues were a fact of life in many countries.
"Wherever you go in the world, there are risks to be taken," he said.