UNITED NATIONS, July 8 (Reuters) - Islamist militant group Boko Haram is blamed for at least 18 attacks on civilians in northern Nigeria in the past two weeks and the escalating violence of the insurgency threatens the security of West Africa, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.
The U.N. special envoy for West Africa, Said Djinnit, told the U.N. Security Council that insecurity in northeastern Nigeria, coupled with growing political tensions ahead of planned general elections in 2015, had left the country at a crossroads.
"The level of violence against civilians in Nigeria continues to escalate," he said. "It is disheartening to note that within the last two weeks at least 18 attacks attributed to Boko Haram have been conducted, resulting in the tragic death of innocent civilians and displacement of peoples."
"The Boko Haram crisis is now affecting security in the sub region," said Djinnit.
Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates as "Western education is sinful," has killed thousands in bomb and gun attacks since 2009 in a bid to carve out an Islamist state.
It initially focused on government and security targets, as well as churches and Muslim leaders who rejected its brand of Islam. But it has increasingly targeted civilians, emboldened by global outrage after it kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the remote village of Chibok in April.
"All efforts should be made to address the insurgency and insecurity," Djinnit said. "The present situation underscores the paramount need for the Nigerian political class to forge a unified stand in confronting the persisting insecurity."
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)