Nigerians: Do We Have Terror Cells Operating Here?

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People in Nigeria are not happy at all about the way their country has made headlines around the world. The suspect in the attempted bombing of a U.S. jetliner on Christmas Day is a 23-old Nigerian man. Nigerians say the suspect has been out of the country for some time, and made links to terrorism elsewhere. However some Nigerians wonder if there are terror cells operating in their country.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

People in Nigeria are not happy at all about the way their country has made headlines around the world. The suspect in the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner on Christmas Day is a 23-old Nigerian man. Nigerians have not been linked, in the past, to this kind of plot. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Nigeria's capital city of Abuja. She's on the line.

Ofeibea, Happy New Year.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: And to you, too. Greetings from sunny Abuja.

INSKEEP: Indeed. Thank you. Thank you. What are Nigerians saying about this arrest?

QUIST-ARCTON: Yeah, sunny but worried Abuja. I mean, Nigerians are worried. They've already got a mini crisis going on, because the president is sick. He's away in Saudi Arabia and receiving medical treatment for a heart condition. So they feel their country is ungoverned at the moment. And then this crisis falls in their lap. So I think Nigerians are feeling besieged. Certainly the government is and ordinary people.

This story is all over the papers, all over the media and it's the talk of the town. Why should this happen now? Why should Nigeria, which is trying to rebrand itself and improve its global image, have to deal with this crisis right now?

INSKEEP: What have you been able to learn about the young man's family?

QUIST-ARCTON: That he comes from a very prominent family. That his father is a respected banker who was just about - has just retired even, Steve. And that it's a family that comes from northern Nigeria, which is mainly Muslim in this country that's half Christian, half Muslim. Many questions are being asked, because this young man had a privileged upbringing.

And his father reported their misgivings - the family's misgivings that the young man seemed to be changing, that his behavior was out of character. Reported it to security agencies, not only here in Nigeria, but we're told, to the U.S. embassy here and to security agencies in two continents - the U.S. and in Saudi Arabia. So many questions are being asked how come this happened -allegedly happened.

INSKEEP: Do you have a better sense of the young man's links to terror groups as his behavior seemed to be changing there?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, the information minister here, Dora Akunyili, immediately said, look, Nigeria is not home to terrorism. If this young boy is indeed accused of that, he went to learn it elsewhere. He's been out of the country studying and it's not here that he got these links.

But many Nigerians are now questioning, do we have terror cells operating here? This is a country that has a strong Muslim tradition and half the population is Muslim. Are our young people being radicalized and are they being radicalized here?

INSKEEP: Just so we understand the context though, because you've been in Nigeria many times and you mention it's half Muslim, half Christian, how well are Muslims integrated into the country in Nigeria?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, Christians and Muslims and animists have lived side by side, coexisted mainly well together, have lived together and got along together and lived in the same communities. But there has been sporadic violence between the two communities that has led to hundreds of deaths over the past ten or more years. So there have been problems. But nobody has really thought of it of having been imposed from elsewhere, either Islamic or Christian. It's been amongst Nigerians.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the capital of Nigerian, Abuja.

Ofeibea, thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.

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