A United States’ (US) Sunday warning of possible attacks on three Abuja luxury hotels during the Sallah holidays was based on specific and credible information, an American diplomat said yesterday.
Even though he did not want his name disclosed, the diplomat would not say where the information on the likely attacks by Boko Haram originated from. He however, said that the US Embassy had no choice, but to warn its citizens who frequent the hotels.
The warning on the possible attacks was made on Sunday following the devastating attacks by the Islamist sect which claimed about 150 lives, last Friday and Saturday in Damaturu and Potiskum in Yobe State, as well as Maiduguri in Borno State.
However, on Monday during a joint Press conference in Abuja, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi and the spokeswoman of the State Security Service (SSS), Marilyn Ogar, said that there was nothing new in the warning. They both said the security agencies are on top of the situation and that the US alert was “insulting to us as a nation.“
But defending the US Embassy’s position in a report yesterday, the diplomat said of the information included in its advisory “we certainly took it very seriously. 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 Abuja but no incident had occurred. Abuja was last hit in August, when a suicide bomber attacked UN headquarters, killing 24 people.
The Federal Government has called the US warning about potential Abuja attacks “not news.”
“The current threat of attacks on the three hotels in Abuja is not news, and for over three months, the security services have taken pro-active measures to protect the designated critical facilities and others,” National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Azazi said in a statement on Monday.
The US diplomat said the embassy did not consult with the Nigerian government before issuing the statement, which warned that hotels and other locations in Abuja could be targeted over the holidays.
The embassy wanted to act as soon as possible to warn US citizens, the diplomat said. “Following the recent Boko Haram, attacks in Borno and Yobe states, the embassy has received information that Boko Haram may plan to attack several locations and hotels in Abuja, during the Sallah holidays,” the advisory said.
“Potential targets may include the Nicon Luxury, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Transcorp Hilton Hotel.” Eid al-Adha was marked on Sunday, but Monday and Tuesday were also public holidays. The diplomat spoke of Boko Haram’s increasingly sophisticated and deadly attacks in Nigeria, 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. “The group has become increasingly sophisticated, increasingly lethal.”
“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 have been signs of individual links, such as Boko Haram members seeking training in foreign countries, but there has been no proof of operational ties.
“There’s no indication that Boko Haram has linked up operationally with any other extremists beyond Nigeria’s borders,” he said. “The evolution of the group unquestionably though has made it clear that we need to step up our security procedures.”
While calling on Nigerians to go about their normal businesses without fear or hindrance, Gen Azazi also assured the public that the security agencies had put in place, adequate counter measures to secure lives and property.
Ogar, an Assistant Director with the SSS, said: “ We all know that we have internal security challenges. It is nothing new and of course, if you ask where did this information comes from, it is basically from the internet; from the Twit which of course, subsequently, somebody sent as an e-mail. And we thought that has been addressed.”