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Nigeria: Boko Haram Demonstrates Improved Capability with U.N. Bombing

4 MINS READAug 26, 2011 | 13:48 GMT
HENRY CHUKWUEDO/AFP/Getty Images
Summary
A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) detonated Aug. 26 at a U.N. compound in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. The attack was likely the work of Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group behind a similar VBIED blast in Abuja in June. The attack could indicate an improvement in Boko Haram's capabilities, and acquisitions of additional explosives or weapons can be expected to increase the lethality of future attacks by the group.
A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) exploded Aug. 26 at approximately 10:20 a.m. in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. The vehicle transporting the device was reportedly driven through the exit security gates of a U.N. compound, into the parking lot and immediately into the U.N. building before exploding, damaging part of the building and, thus far, killing an estimated 18 people and wounding up to 30. Smoke can be seen rising from the building. The blast marks the second VBIED attack in Abuja in less than three months. On June 16, Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a VBIED that exploded at the Nigerian police headquarters in Abuja. It is likely that Boko Haram was responsible for the Aug. 26 VBIED as well — this time improving upon their previous bombing — though no claim of responsibility has been made so far. It is unclear what type of vehicle was used to transport the VBIED. Reports are conflicting, stating either a truck or a sedan, possibly a Honda Accord; photos of the vehicle indicate its wheels were consistent with those of a sedan. Regardless, the device was substantial. The VBIED used in the June 16 bombing was also a substantial device, but that attack failed to cause substantial damage because security kept the vehicle away from the building. Photos also show that the vehicle was registered in Kano state in north-central Nigeria, possibly indicating a connection to militant Islamists in northern Nigeria. The affected U.N. compound is located in the diplomatic district of Abuja, the same area housing the U.S. Embassy. The U.N. compound was likely chosen because it was believed to be a soft target with insufficient security measures in place to stop the attack. Boko Haram, whose name means "foreign education is forbidden," has focused heretofore on Nigerian targets. But the United Nations is a logical target for the group due to the various programs the organization conducts inside Nigeria. The June 16 VBIED attack prompted the Nigerian government to increase its efforts against threats posed by Boko Haram, but Abuja has had no notable success in that regard. The Nigerian government has taken several approaches to this end, including sending a joint task force comprising military forces to Boko Haram's northeastern hub in Maiduguri and forming a presidential-level advisory committee that reaches out to political elements in northern Nigeria, who in turn may be able to influence the Islamist sect. Nigerian officials have also sought security assistance from a number of foreign governments and agencies, such as the United Kingdom, in creating a "fusion center" installation to better coordinate intelligence sharing and cooperation among Nigerian security agencies. Nigerian authorities have also met with foreign government officials, including those from the United States, about receiving training and equipment, to include surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles, to interdict Boko Haram. Nigerian and foreign government officials are also investigating any possible relationship that may develop between Boko Haram and elements of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in addition to reports of possible connections to Somali jihadists from al Shabaab. There have been reports of a Boko Haram-AQIM relationship, but so far that relationship may have been limited to small numbers of members interacting with the other. The Aug. 26 VBIED attack in Abuja is likely the second conducted by Boko Haram. The significance of the attack is that it could indicate an improvement in the group's capability, as the VBIED driver was undeterred by perimeter security. Boko Haram in recent weeks has carried out small attacks in cities in the country's North-East region, including attacks on police officials. That the VBIED had license plates from Kano state does not necessarily mean the driver is from that state — the car may have been stolen or borrowed from someone from Kano — but it does reveal that northern elements acquired the vehicle to transport the device. Should Boko Haram acquire additional explosives or other weapons, through theft at police stations it attacks or in exchanges with AQIM or al Shabaab, Boko Haram can be expected to be more lethal in any future attacks against the Nigerian state or foreign installations or personnel seen as supporting the Nigerian state.

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