- Associated Press - Sunday, August 28, 2011

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — The United Nations had no prior warnings or intelligence about threats against its Nigeria headquarters, the world body’s security chief said Sunday, as top officials mourned the 23 killed in a suicide car bombing there.

U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, along with Nigeria‘s foreign minister and the body’s local representative, laid bouquets of red and white roses Sunday near a U.N. flag flying at half-mast at the site of Friday’s attack. U.N. security chief Gregory Starr, who also visited the wreckage, said the international body knew of no specific threat against them in Africa’s most populous nation.

“We had some general threats worldwide and some very mixed, general threat information about the environment” in Nigeria, Mr. Starr told the Associated Press. “But no, (we had) no advanced warning.”

A suicide bomber rammed through two sets of gates to reach the massive U.N. building’s glass reception hall Friday morning. There, the bomber detonated explosives powerful enough to bring down parts of the concrete structure and blow out glass windows from other buildings in the quiet neighborhood filled with diplomatic posts.

A radical Muslim sect operating in northeast Nigeria known locally as Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Yes, they’re the group that has claimed responsibility, but it’s really the investigation that has to take place to determine ultimately who is responsible,” Mr. Starr said.

Ms. Migiro, of Tanzania, later visited Abuja’s nearby National Hospital, where many of the wounded were treated after the blast. The death toll for the attack rose Sunday to 23 people killed, said Martin Dawes, a U.N. spokesman attending the trip. Mr. Dawes said another 81 people were wounded in the attack.

Ms. Migiro walked among hospital beds in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Some of the wounded still had shrapnel in their bodies and could speak softly only after nurses removed their oxygen masks.

“Those who have been affected are a wide range of people, those who have been working with the United Nations, others have been in the building for business purposes,” she said. “It’s not only those who have been injured or killed, but we know they have families, they have dependents. This tragedy has affected their lives; it will never be the same.”

Boko Haram vowed Saturday to commit future attacks. Hours earlier, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised to bring terrorism in the oil-rich nation “under control.”

However, his weakened government has been unable so far to stop Boko Haram from carrying out assassinations and bombings at will. The sect is responsible for a rash of killings targeting security officers, local leaders and clerics in Nigeria‘s volatile northeast during the last year. They also claimed responsibility for a bombing at national police headquarters that killed two in June.

Friday’s attack was the first suicide attack targeting foreigners by Boko Haram, a group that has reported links to al Qaeda. The sect wants to implement a strict version of Shariah law in the nation and is vehemently opposed to Western education and culture.

Nigeria, a country of 150 million people largely split between a Christian south and Muslim north, remains desperately poor after decades of oil wealth being squandered by its political elite. That poverty has spread resentment throughout the north in recent years.