Friday, September 7, 2012

Boko Haram attack telecoms facilities

Gunmen attacked and damaged many mobile phone masts belonging to MTN and Airtel in Kano and Maiduguri yesterday, disrupting telecommunications in parts of the two cities, Daily Trust learnt.

In what appeared to be coordinated attacks on telecom installations, at least eight MTN masts were destroyed and its office burnt in Maiduguri between Tuesday night and early morning yesterday, while attackers detonated an explosive in front of a cell phone tower in Bauchi.

No one was reported killed in the attacks, which are likely to be blamed on a sect that has waged a campaign of violence in the North because the sect in February issued threats against mobile telecom companies.

In Maiduguri, residents said about 10 gunmen hit the MTN office around 2am yesterday and chased away private security guards on duty, before setting fire to the building.

The gunmen also damaged telecommunication masts belonging to MTN at Bolori, Ngaranam, Dala Alamdiri, Adam Kolo, Limanti, Gwange, Bayan Quarters and West End areas.

"Some young, about ten of them, armed with guns came to this place in the night and ordered the security men out of the place before they set the office including the mast ablaze," a security guard for one of the companies close to the MTN office said.

A spokeswoman for MTN confirmed to Daily Trust that some of MTN's installations were damaged in the North.

"We confirm that like all the other major telcos, some of MTN's installations in northern Nigeria have been damaged by unknown persons," spokeswoman Funmilayo Omogbenigun said.

"All the relevant government security agencies have been informed and we are receiving their full co-operation."

Airtel was not immediately available for comment.

Spokesman for the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, Lt. Col Sagir Musa, confirmed the attacks on facilities of telcos but said he will brief the media later on the incident.

When our reporter visited the burnt MTN office, it was found destroyed and no staff was seen around.

Residents of the affected areas said there was no mobile telephone reception after the incidents.

The attacks appeared to scare telecommunication company workers in the city as they all locked their offices.

In Kano, men on motorbikes destroyed MTN and Airtel mobile phone masts in Hotoron Hangama and Sharada industrial estate early yesterday.

An official of MTN, who does not want to be named, told our correspondent that the company's Hotoron Hangama base station went up in flames around 7am.

"It is obvious that the fire was set by someone because we hardly encounter such fire incidents at our stations," he said.

Witnesses reported seeing two men on a motorcycle setting the facility on fire.

A security guard attached to one of the industries in Sharada said the Airtel base station was burnt by two attackers.

Meanwhile, security was beefed up around telecommunication installations in all parts of Kano yesterday.

When contacted, spokesman for the Kano State Police Command, ASP Musa Magaji Majiya, said a fire incident was reported at MTN base station in Hotoro but was put out immediately by guards. H said the command did not receive any report about the incident affecting Airtel mast in Sharada.

In Bauchi, one person was injured when an explosive went off apparently targeting a mobile telecom installation on Tuesday night. The Police said they diffused another bomb elsewhere in the city.

Spokesman for the Police in Bauchi ASP Hassan Mohammed Auyo confirmed the incidents but did not give details.

In his reaction, chairman of Association Licensed Telecommunications of Nigeria (ALTON) Engr. Gbenga Adebayo said attacks on telecom facilities could affect the quality of service.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks as at last night, but the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid Da'awati Wal Jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram in February threatened to attack telecom companies over alleged collaboration with security agencies that led to the arrest of some of their members.

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