A suicide bomber attacked the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja today, killing at least 18 people and wounding scores more. The radical Islamist sect know as Boko Haram has claimed credit for the attack.
The suicide bomber was able to pass through the checkpoints in the high-security area of the capital before ramming his car packed with explosives into the UN building, according to witnesses.
Reports indicate that 18 or more people were killed in the blast, and the front facade of the building was leveled. The death toll may rise as many people are believed to be trapped in the rubble.
A police commissioner said that despite heightened security in the area that day, the suicide bomber was not stopped before detonating because security forces were not allowed to carry guns on the premises.
The suicide attack against the UN is the first against foreigners in Nigeria. A man who said he was a spokesman for Boko Haram, which has sought ties with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and praised al Qaeda, claimed credit for today’s deadly suicide attack and threatened further attacks.
“The attack was carefully scripted and executed,’ the spokesman, who goes by the name of Abu Darda, told a French journalist, according to Sky News.
“We have said it several times that the UN is one of our prime targets,” Abu Darda continued. “More attacks are on the way, and by the will of Allah we will have unfettered access to wherever we want to attack. We have more than 100 men who are willing to lay down their lives for the cause of Allah.”
Boko Haram has carried out one suicide attack in Nigeria this year and attempted another.
On June 16, a suicide bomber killed one person and wounded several more in an attack on a police station in Abuja. Two days later, Boko Haram said it carried out the suicide attack. “We are responsible for the bomb attack on the police headquarters in Abuja, which was to prove a point to all those who doubt our capability,” it said in a statement.
Also, on Aug. 17, police killed a suicide bomber before he could detonate his car bomb after he rammed a police station in Maiduguri. Police said they believe the suicide bomber is a member of Boko Haram.
Background on Boko Haram
Boko Haram, which translates to “education is sin,” is also known by its Arabic name, Al Sunnah Wal Jamma, or the “Followers of Mohammad’s Teachings.” The group was founded in 2004 in Kanamma village in northern Yobe State, which borders Niger. Boko Haram seeks to establish an Islamic state in the African country.
Even though sharia law has been enforced more strictly in the 12 predominantly Muslim states of northern Nigeria since 2000, Boko Haram demands a “full Sharia” adoption of Islamic law in the 12 states of northern Nigeria. The group also seeks a ban throughout Nigeria on Western education, culture, and science that the group deems sinful; and, contrary to its name, the group aims to provide Islamic schooling as the only form of education to the public.
Abdullah, a member of Boko Haram, told Reuters in 2009 that the group intends to “clean the (Nigerian) system which is polluted by western education and uphold the Sharia all over the country.”
The group has been waging a low-level insurgency against the Nigerian government since 2009, when major clashes between the two broke out in northern Nigeria during the summer of 2009. Police killed hundreds of Boko Haram fighters, and captured and then executed Mohammad Yusuf, the terror group’s former leader.
Since the violent 2009 uprising by Boko Haram, the group has conducted numerous attacks against the Nigerian police and military, as well as clerics and politicians who oppose the group. The city of Maiduguri in the northeastern state of Borno has been the center of Boko Haram’s insurgency. Thousands of families have fled the city, fearing clashes between police and the group.
Boko Haram has conducted large-scale operations in the north. In September 2010, its fighters raided a prison in the town of Bauchi, freeing more than 800 inmates, including 200 Boko Haram members. Upwards of 50 Boko Haram members stormed the prison armed with AK-47s and killed four people, including two bodyguards, and wounded four others.
Boko Haram has also expanded its propaganda efforts to show solidarity with al Qaeda and its affiliates. In July 2010, Imam Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, issued an online statement praising al Qaeda and offered condolences to al Qaeda of Iraq for its loss of Abu Ayyub al Masri and Abu Omar al Baghdadi.
“Do not think jihad is over,” Shekau said. “Rather jihad has just begun. O America, die with your fury.”
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.