Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Armed attacks on banks in Nigeria have reached 100 this year as a militant Islamic sect, Boko Haram, increasingly targets lenders in the country’s mainly Muslim north, a central bank official said.
“About 100 bank branches have been attacked by Boko Haram and armed robbers this year,” Mohammed Abdullahi, spokesman of the Central Bank of Nigeria, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “When compared with about 5,574 branches of the banks, 1.7 percent have been attacked.”
Authorities in Africa’s most populous country of more than 160 million people blame the Boko Haram sect, which draws inspiration from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, for a surge in violent attacks this year, including suicide bombings and armed assaults on government buildings, police stations and banks in the north and Abuja, the capital. The sect claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 suicide car-bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja that killed 24 people.
At least 30 attacks attributed to Boko Haram, whose name in the Hausa language translates as “Western education is a sin,” have been reported this year, according to the police. In the latest attack on Dec. 4, assailants destroyed branches of Intercontinental Bank Plc and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc in the town of Azare in the northeast with explosives and gunfire. They also attacked a nearby police station, leaving at least six people dead.
The group wants Islamic rule in Nigeria’s Muslim north and perceives lenders that charge interest, contrary to their belief, as legitimate targets, Shehu Sani, president of Kaduna- based civic group, Civil Rights Congress, who had tried to mediate between the government and the sect, said in a phone interview on Dec. 6. “The Islamist insurgents also attack banks as a source of finance for their activities,” he said.
Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and most populous nation of more than 160 million people, is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south. More than 14,000 people died in ethnic and religious clashes in the West African nation between 1999 and 2009, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
--With assistance from Dulue Mbachu in Lagos. Editors: Dulue Mbachu, Antony Sguazzin
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