Nigeria bomb toll rises, was warning ignored?

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Saturday, 2 October 2010 10:14 GMT

* Death toll from car bombs climbs to 12

* Report that government knew attack was imminent

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA, Oct 2 (Reuters) - The death toll from car bombs that exploded near a parade marking Nigeria&${esc.hash}39;s 50th anniversary of independence rose to 12 on Saturday and reports emerged that the government had been warned of the attack but failed to act.

Jimoh Moshoo, police spokesman in the capital Abuja, said 12 people were confirmed dead and a further 17 injured in Friday&${esc.hash}39;s blasts, which came about an hour after an emailed bomb threat from a rebel group in the oil-producing Niger delta.

Nigerian newspaper This Day, citing sources in Nigeria&${esc.hash}39;s presidency, said British intelligence had got wind of plans for an attack and passed on a warning to Abuja, but to no avail.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election next year and who is from the impoverished delta region, has condemned the attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and vowed to bring those behind them to justice.

Compounding suspicions of prior knowledge of the attack was a reported raid by South African security forces on the home of Henry Okah, a senior MEND figure in Johannesburg, in the early hours of Friday morning.

Stratfor, a security consultancy, said the raid by 30 South African police was requested by the Nigerian authorities "after receiving word that the attacks in Abuja were imminent". It failed to uncover any incriminating evidence, Stratfor said.

News outlets including Reuters received the emailed bomb warning about an hour before the blasts. There was no reaction from security forces overseeing the lavish Independence Day celebrations at an Abuja parade ground.

OIL THREAT

A source at the National Emergency Management Agency in Abuja confirmed the death toll.

"We actually conveyed 12 corpses to the hospital morgue and took more than 30 injured to different hospitals in Abuja. Out of this number, 10 were critical," the source said.

MEND has been fighting for years for a greater share of oil revenues from the impoverished Niger Delta, home to Africa&${esc.hash}39;s biggest oil and gas industry.

Although most of its activities have been focused on the creeks and swamps of the delta, it has struck at offshore oil installations and in the heart of Nigeria&${esc.hash}39;s commercial capital, Lagos.

As well as overshadowing the 50th birthday of Africa&${esc.hash}39;s most populous nation, the bombs could deal another blow to a shaky amnesty brokered last year with rebels in the Delta.

Nigeria&${esc.hash}39;s oil production has climbed from about 1.6 million barrels per day before the amnesty to around 2 million as oil companies have been able to repair sabotaged pipelines and supply terminals.

A return to violence would be likely to reverse those gains, with implications for Nigeria&${esc.hash}39;s wider economic growth, although security analysts said major MEND attacks have not necessarily been followed by a spike in oil-related violence.

"It&${esc.hash}39;s a big event in itself because they&${esc.hash}39;ve killed a reasonable number of people, but I don&${esc.hash}39;t think it will have much aftermath," said Peter Sharwood-Smith, country manager for security consultancy Drum-Cussac.

"MEND have always taken advantage of any kind of event that will have the world&${esc.hash}39;s attention to get their point across." (Additional reporting by Felix Onuah, Writing by Ed Cropley; editing by Robert Woodward)

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