Monday, October 6, 2003

LONDON — The British government has received intelligence reports warning that Queen Elizabeth II could be the target of an al Qaeda terrorist attack when she attends a conference later this year in Nigeria.

The warnings indicate that al Qaeda operatives hope to exploit weaknesses in Nigeria’s security services to strike during the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in December.

Chris Mullin, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Africa, has told colleagues he is prepared to offer Nigeria, which has a large Muslim population, the use of British forces to bolster security.

Ministers insist that there is no suggestion that the queen would not go to the conference, which she is due to attend as head of the Commonwealth, but admit that they are concerned for her safety.

“She could be an al Qaeda target,” a government minister said. “We will be talking to the Nigerians about their security plans, and we are prepared to offer our security forces if necessary.”

It is likely that Britain will offer to send highly trained anti-terrorist police squads and special forces, such as the Special Air Services (SAS).

In a taped message to Muslims broadcast in February, Osama bin Laden branded the governments of Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen and Nigeria as “apostate” and called on Muslims to overthrow their relatively pro-Western governments.

An international security official said that Nigeria was taking the threat seriously.

“There are two issues — groups within Nigeria and groups outside, and perhaps the two working together. The federal government is taking this very seriously. They’re not joking around with it,” he said.

The official said the Commonwealth summit could be a target for two reasons — Islamist anger over the Iraq war and a more general desire to destabilize governments of Muslim countries thought to be too close to the West.

The queen is also due to see Nigerian village life during her stay for the four-day summit, which begins Dec. 4.

Chris Olakpe, a spokesman for the Nigerian federal police force, said that police and security service units had been boosted at Nigeria’s ports, airports and major border crossings, and that a huge security team would be in place for the summit.

Although al Qaeda has yet to strike in West Africa, it has carried out atrocities elsewhere on the continent, including the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. It is also thought to have been behind the bomb at the Paradise Hotel near Mombasa, Kenya, in November.

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