- UN revises death toll to 23, including 9 UN staff members; fears more bodies under rubble
- 73 people injured, 26 of whom remain in intensive care; eight evacuated to South Africa for treatment
- 50 suspects reportedly arrested, according to Nigerian Inspector General of Police Hafiz Ringim
- Vast majority of the dead Nigerians; 30-year-old Norwegian woman has also been confirmed among the dead.
- Nigeria asks FBI for assistance in investigation
- Deputy UN Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro and UN Security Chief Gregory Starr visit victims in Abuja
- UN promises care of staff and continuity of operations; UN and Nigerian security officials rapped for lax precautions.
- Embassies demand extra police protection in aftermath of the blast; French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé describes attack as a “heinous and cowardly act."
(HN, August 30, 2011 - UPDATED 0300GMT) - A suspected suicide bomber detonated a car bomb inside the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja Friday, killing as many as 23 people and injuring 73 others.
The UN confirmed Saturday that nine of its staff members are confirmed dead and several others injured. Of the injured, 26 are in intensive care - some of whom have been evacuated to South Africa.
The vehicle - reportedly a white SUV - roared past security guards Friday morning and rammed through two gates before stopping inside the entrance to the enormous building, inflicting maximum damage.
Known as UN House, the facility has four floors and is designed as an atrium-like structure. Since the vehicle entered inside the building it was able to inflict tremendous human and structural damage.
One source in Abuja told HUMNEWS that one UN agency - the World Health Organization (WHO) - has had two staffers confirmed killed. At the time of the attack, a WHO staff association meeting was taking place on the 1st floor, above the reception area. "That is apparently where many injuries and deaths occurred," the source said.
Migiro said the bombing was "a shocking incident, an attack on global peace and communities".
"I have looked at the ripped-up gate. It is amazing how this happened and we are grappling with that, now ... an investigation is under way ... We will see what we have to do better," Migiro, who was accompanied by UN Security Chief Gregory Starr, said.
"We are working as a team to ensure that the injured do get all the treatment that they require," Migiro said after visiting the hospital, where many of the injured were receiving treatment.
Starr said the UN had no previous warnings or intelligence about threats against its Nigeria headquarters.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack "an assault on those who devote their lives to helping others."
Aside from WHO, the building houses the offices of UNICEF, UNDP, UNIFEM and many other UN agencies. It also houses a travel agency and a branch of the UK-based Standard Chartered bank. In all 26 UN agencies are in the building, employing about 400 people.
The 23 death toll figure would strike many people as eery as it is the same number of people that died in the 2003 attack on the UN headquarters in Iraq, including including the United Nations' Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
Said UNDP Chief Helen Clark: "I deplore this brutal attack against our unarmed colleagues who dedicated their lives to helping the people of Nigeria."
The bomb would have made a direct hit on a security desk at the front, the bank and travel agency and ground-floor UN security offices. It would appear the attackers had knowledge of the facility: Fridays are half-days at the UN in Nigeria and since the attack occurred at 1030am local time it was well before workers began to pack up their belongings for the weekend.
The attack would have come as a surprise to UN security personnel as Abuja has one of the lowest security phases in the UN system.
According to one source, a security clamp-down on Abuja took effect soon after the attack, snarling traffic to and from the airport.
The building is protected by a private security firm hired by the UN; unlike the nearby US Embassy there is no Nigerian security presence. A security building at the front screens all visitors and has x-ray machines to monitor bags and other items. It is a 10 minute walk from several embassies, included the heavily protected US Embassy.
One former UN employee at the building told HUMNEWS that he disliked working at the complex for two reasons: "Number one it is a natural target as all UN agencies are housed in one building, and second the security is rarely at the top of their game from what I have seen."
Soon after the attack, militants from the shadowy group, Boko Haram, the Muslim sect with reported links to al-Qaida that wants to implement a strict version of Shariah law in the nation, took credit for the bombing in a phone call to British broadcaster BBC.
Jennifer Cooke, Director of the Africa Programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies described the Boko Haram attack as "a major escalation."
"There's going to be a security reaction from Nigeria which has been fairly lax so far," Cooke told BBC News.
A UN official in Nigeria told the BBC that the UN had stepped up security at all its buildings in Nigeria in the past month after receiving information that the UN could be targeted by Boko Haram.
The attack follows a period of relative calm. However, early this year, there were bombings connected with the local, state and national elections, including one in late 2010 during Nigeria's 50th independence anniversary ceremony, killing at least 12 at a market in Abuja.
"I saw scattered bodies," said Michael Ofilaje, a UNICEF worker at the building, which he said shook with the explosion. "Many people are dead."
"We condemn this terrible act, utterly," secretary-general Ban told reporters at U.N. headquarters.
Ban reportedly told a Security Council meeting that the attack was "evidence that the UN premises are increasingly being viewed as a soft target by extremist elements around the world".
The explosion punched a huge hole in the building. Workers brought three large cranes to the site within hours of the attack, trying to pull away the concrete and rubble to find survivors. Others at the site stood around, stunned, as medical workers began carrying out what appeared to be the dead.
"This is getting out of hand," said a U.N. staffer who identified himself as Bodunrin. "If they can get into the U.N. House, they can reach anywhere."
Ali Tikko, who was in a building 100 yards (meters) from the site of the blast when it occurred told the AP, "I see a number of people lying on the floor - at least four or five. I cannot see if they are dead. There are a lot of security around."
Ordinary Nigerians were quick to register the shock and disgust in postings on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. "Please pray for Nigeria in this turbulent time. The government has failed us in its entirety," wrote a Twitter user, Toni, from Benin City in Nigeria.
Tweeted MusaT from Nigeria: "When will our President stand up to the call of governance. Maybe he needs to be reminded that the Primary function of government is SECURITY. Our president is not proactive on the issues of security facing this country, rather he is busy pock-nosing in the judiciary."
In a statement, US President Barack Obama called the attack a "heinous action."
"I strongly condemn today’s horrific and cowardly attack on the United Nations headquarters building in Abuja, Nigeria, which killed and wounded many innocent civilians from Nigeria and around the world. I extend the deepest sympathies of the American people to the victims and their families, colleagues, and friends, whom we will keep in our thoughts and prayers.
"The people who serve the United Nations do so with a simple purpose: to try to improve the lives of their neighbors and promote the values on which the UN was founded -- dignity, freedom, security, and peace. The UN has been working in partnership with the people of Nigeria for more than five decades. An attack on Nigerian and international public servants demonstrates the bankruptcy of the ideology that led to this heinous action."
Many Nigerians and outside observers were upset that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan took a full five hours to comment on the attack, which he described as a "barbaric, senseless and cowardly." The statement also promised to increase security in the nation's capital, and indeed, the diplomatic copmmunity this week demanded more protection in a meeting with government officials.
Jonathan visited the blast site Sunday.
Ban dispatched Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and the UN security chief, Gregory Starr.
The Security Council observed a minute's silence before the start of a meeting Friday on UN peace keeping operations.
The Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, described the attack as a sad development and a wake-up call for security agencies in Nigeria.
- HUMNEWS staff, agencies, Twitter