Scanning the football news I came across a report of a bombing in the Nigerian city of Jos, which targeted football fans watching the UEFA Champions League Final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid May 24th at a viewing party. At least three people were reported to have been killed, and the number would have been much greater if the (allegedly) suicide bomber had detonated his bomb at the correct time and place. According to Chris Olakpe, the commissioner of police for Plateau state, the bomb “exploded before the viewing centre because of pressure from local youths and the alertness of the local people”.
While Nigeria is no stranger to violence—just four days earlier, on May 20, twin car bomb explosions killed at least 118 people in Jos— this event is particularly worrying in light of the upcoming World Cup (which Nigeria will be competing in Group F along with Messi’s Argentina).
The Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been suspected in both recent attacks, and has been suspected in previous football-related violence as well. Please see this passage from the Agence France-Presse item appearing on Yahoo News:
Last month, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, northeast Yobe state, and shot dead two people showing the two Champions League quarter-final matches.
Police at the time did not directly blame Boko Haram for the attack but the group has been known for preaching against football as part of its agenda to impose strict Islamic law in northern Nigeria.
In several video clips, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion.
It would behoove security forces in not only Nigeria but across the world to ensure that security is tight at all open viewing areas. I myself attended a viewing party in Berlin during the 2010 World Cup and can attest that the atmosphere is certainly electric—but it is also chaotic:
Security forces the world over should be on their guard at all times. Major sporting events have always been conspicuous soft targets for attacks, but such attacks tend to occur in the home country (the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta is an example). With the World Cup being a truly global event that brings large numbers of people out to watch even in countries that did not qualify, the number of targets grows, and the festive atmosphere serves to provide cover for those with destructive plans. Just because a country is not hosting the tournament does not necessarily mean that it won’t be a target for smaller-scale attacks.
I urge football fans everywhere to keep an eye out for suspicious activities wherever you may be watching this summer, and wish you a safe and enjoyable World Cup 2016.
The Scene After the Car Bombing in Jos (Image Courtesy of: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/46-dead-in-suspected-boko-haram-twin-car-bomb-attack-in-jos-nigeria-9406229.html)