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Nigeria Vows to Come Down Hard on Religious Extremists

Nigeria's government says it will prosecute those who foment religious violence in response to claims that the West African nation has become a breeding ground for Islamist fundamentalists. Speculations heightened after the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner Christmas day.

Justice Minister Michael Aondoaaka told reporters the government will deal more decisively with those behind religious clashes.

"Henceforth, all offenses related to religious violence must be prosecuted, must be prosecuted," said Michael Aondoaaka.

Human rights activists say thousands of people have been killed in religious conflicts in Nigeria since independence in 1960. Hard-line Islamists are blamed for most of the killings.

Concerns that Africa's most populous nation, where most of an estimated 150 million survive on less than $2 a day, has become a breeding ground for Islamist fundamentalists heightened when a Nigerian man tried to blow up a U.S. -bound airplane on Christmas day.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of a prominent Nigerian banker, is charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on its way to Detroit from Amsterdam. He had flown to Amsterdam on a KLM flight from Lagos.

Some Christian leaders in the predominantly Muslim north claim the region has become vulnerable to international terrorist networks.

Justice Minister Aondoaaka says Nigeria would use an airport security footage to try to prove to U.S. investigators that security staff at Lagos airport had done their job. He said Abdulmutallab was screened before he boarded his flight.

"The young man came in, he was screened and it is there on the visual information," he said. "He first came in, he walked to the right trying to go into the right screening machine, then suddenly he changed his mind and came to the left, removed his shoes and entered. It is there. Our security agencies did all that is required under the law to ensure that Nigeria complied with international standards."

Nigeria has formally requested that Washington reconsider its decision to put it on its security watch list, which also includes Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The government says the restrictions on air passengers from Nigeria are likely to harm ties between the two countries.