(CNSNews.com) – New interreligious violence around Nigeria’s flashpoint city of Jos has prompted fears that worse could be on its way. One Nigerian newspaper cited an alleged government security alert warning that the Islamist group behind the recent U.N. headquarters suicide bombing is planning to carry out more attacks in Jos.
Abuja’s Leadership daily said the alert from the Plateau state’s military special task force referred to a meeting in a village on the outskirts of Jos where members of the Boko Haram group discussed calling in others from the northern belt of shari’a-ruled states to “join the Muslims in Jos for a mass attack,” presumably on Christians in the area.
The paper said the alert also reported that five cars had been donated for use in suicide bombings, and that two individuals had put up 50 million Nigerian naira (about $321,000) each to finance attacks. Security forces were advised to search all vehicles entering the area.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter. Around 50 percent of its 155 million people are Muslims, while about 40 percent are Christians.
Jos is the capital of the central Plateau state, which lies roughly along the dividing line between the mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Jos has long been the location of Muslim-Christian clashes, costing well over a thousand lives over the past decade. Deadly clashes occurred there in 2001, 2008, early 2010 and Christmas Eve 2010, when more than 30 people were killed in bombings targeting mostly Christian parts of the city.
The latest outburst on Sunday and Monday saw at least 18 people killed, including eight members of one family, according to government officials.
Boko Haram is the group blamed for the August 26 bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, in which 23 people were killed and another 70 injured.
The State Security Service reported last week that the two Boko Haram members were in custody in connection with the bombing and a third – the suspected mastermind, who had recently returned to Nigeria from Somalia – was wanted.
President Goodluck Jonathan said on Friday that security agencies were following up “strong leads as to those involved in this terror war on Nigeria and Nigerians.”
Boko Haram is reported to have links s to Somalia’s al-Shabaab and to al-Qaeda’s north Africa affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Also known as the “Nigerian Taliban” or “Nigerian Jihad,” its focus has been mostly universal enforcement shari’a in Nigeria and a purge of what it sees as Western influences in education and culture. Its attacks up to now have targeted Nigerians, and the U.N. bombing marks an apparent shift in tactics.
Nigeria has long been identified as a key target for al-Qaeda, with Osama bin Laden in 2003 naming it among the six “most qualified regions for liberation” by Islamic fighters (the others were Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco, Pakistan and Jordan.)
Opinion polls have found substantial support for radical views among Nigerian Muslims. In a 2010 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 48 percent of Nigerian Muslim respondents expressed “confidence” in bin Laden.
The same poll found significantly lower levels of “confidence” in the al-Qaeda terrorist among Muslim respondents in six other countries surveyed, ranging from 25 percent in Indonesia to zero in Lebanon.
Similarly, 49 percent of Nigerian respondents expressed a favorable opinion of al-Qaeda. By comparison the other countries were: Jordan 34 percent, Indonesia 23 percent, Egypt 20 percent, Pakistan 18 percent, Turkey four percent and Lebanon three percent.
In another finding, 34 percent of Nigerian respondents said suicide bombings could be justified “in defense of Islam.” Only respondents in Lebanon scored higher (39 percent), while comparative scores in the other countries surveyed were 20 percent in Egypt and Jordan, 15 percent in Indonesia, eight percent in Pakistan and six percent in Turkey.