Security Scare at US Embassy in Abuja … Two Suspects Handed Over to Nigerian Authorities
There was a security scare at the United States Embassy in Abuja on Monday, following suspected gunshots in the vicinity of the well guarded mission.
While one account had it that unknown gunmen fired shots around the embassy, another said it was two teenagers who set off fireworks in an undeveloped plot located a few metres from the mission.
The embassy is located on Plot 1075, Diplomatic Drive, Central Business District in Abuja.
Immediately the shots were heard, a commotion reportedly ensued while diplomats and other embassy staff were placed on an emergency alert.
The News Agency of Nigeria quoted some policemen at the diplomatic zone, which houses several embassies, as saying there was “panic and confusion” after the shots were heard.
A petty trader told NAN in pidgin that there was smoke and noise, which led to a commotion.
The unnamed petty trader said, “I hear noise and see smoke; people dey run and I think say na knockout and people say na gun shot. Naim I pick my egg roll and kunu and run too.”
A member of staff of the embassy, who declined to be named, told NAN that they were “placed on emergency following an incident across the street.”
The NAN correspondent claimed to have seen a combined team of policemen and U.S. security officials questioning two teenagers detained in front of the embassy.
The embassy confirmed the security scare in a terse statement issued by its information office.
It said two suspects arrested in connection with the incident were in the custody of Nigerian authorities and referred journalists to the Nigeria Police Force for further information.
The statement reads, “We believe there were shots fired in the vicinity of the US Embassy. The Nigerian authorities have two individuals in custody.
“We refer you to the Nigerian police for further information.”
The email statement, one of the embassy’s standard methods of communicating with journalists, was sent to one of our correspondents.
But the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters and the Federal Capital Territory Police Command denied knowledge of the incident.
However, the embassy’s Public Affairs Specialist, Mr. Sani Mohammed, when contacted on the telephone, confirmed the authenticity of the mission’s statement to THE PUNCH.
Mohammed said, “We issued the statement and like it states, contact the police for further information.”
Sani, however, did not answer further questions, noting that he had no more information to give on the incident.
According to the police, there is no report of the incident.
The Force PRO, Mr. Olusola Amore, said an officer was dispatched to the embassy to confirm the incident, but the mission allegedly denied issuing a statement about the purported shooting and arrest of two suspects.
He said, “I don’t know where you (journalists) got such a statement because we dispatched an officer to the embassy and they (embassy authorities) said there was no shooting around their building and that they did not issue any statement on the matter.
“You should examine the source of the statement purportedly issued by the embassy.”
Similarly, the FCT Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Moshood Jimoh, said he had contacted the Divisional Police Officer in charge of the area, who said there was neither a report of shooting nor any form of violence around the embassy. He also said no arrests had been made.
When contacted, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ogbole Ahmedu-Ode, said, “I’m yet to receive any such report.”
The State Security Service spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, denied knowledge of the report.
She said, “You can get in touch with the police as the embassy indicated.”
However, there was heightened security presence around some government facilities in Abuja, which included the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The last travel warning issued by the American State Department to US citizens visiting Nigeria was on February 29, 2012.
It reads in part, “The Department of State warns US citizens of the risks of travel to Nigeria and continues to recommend that US citizens avoid all but essential travel to the Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers; the South-Eastern states of Abia, Edo, Imo; the city of Jos in Plateau State, Bauchi and Borno states in the North-East; and the Gulf of Guinea because of the risks of kidnapping, robbery, and other armed attacks in these areas.
“Violent crime committed by individuals and gangs, as well as by persons wearing police and military uniforms, remains a problem throughout the country.
“Based on safety and security risk assessments, the U.S. Mission requires advance permission and justification as mission-essential for US official travel to all Northern Nigerian states, in addition to the locations listed above.”
Also, the U.S. Department of State, early in March, updated its travel warning, and restricted travels by its government officials to the Northern part of the country.
It had maintained that the risk of attack against Western targets in Nigeria remained high.
Worried by armed violence and terrorist activities in some parts of the country, President Goodluck Jonathan had on December 31, 2011, declared a state of emergency in 15 local government areas in Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobe states.
Embassies in Abuja have been on a state of heightened alert since the suicide bomb attack on the United Nations building in the federal capital on August 26, 2011.
There have also been reports that Boko Haram may be targeting Western interests in the country, especially in the wake of the recent abduction of some expatriates.
A Briton and an Italian abducted in May 2010 in Birnin Kebbi by suspected terrorists were killed by their captors two weeks ago when Nigerian and British special forces tried to rescue the hostages from where they were being held in Sokoto.
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