The trial of five men charged with plotting attacks on government targets has started in Nigeria.  Prosecutors say the suspected Islamist militants have links to al Qaida.  Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja some Muslim groups have denounced the trial as a Western Islamophobic conspiracy.

The five suspects looked disheveled as they appeared in court for the start of what could become a controversial trial.  Defense counsel Kehinde Ogunwumiju says the men have been granted bail, but have remained in jail because they could not fulfill bail conditions.

"They have not been able to fulfill bail conditions," he said.  "And the bail conditions are a surety with a house or landed property worth at least five million naira [about $40,000] in Kano or FCT [Federal Capital Territory].  Or at least a surety who is a civil servant, not below grade-level 14," he said.

The court will reconvene next month after the judge announced he could not continue.

The five suspects were arrested in northern Nigeria last year.  Three of them were said to have traveled to a terrorist camp in Algeria to receive training and intended to cause insurrection in Nigeria.

Prosecutors say the suspects, all in their 30s, had planned to attack government facilities in three of Nigeria's largest cities.  They allegedly planned to use assault rifles and explosives found in their possession.  They face life imprisonment if convicted.

The U.S. State Department warned last September that Nigeria was at risk of "a terrorist attack."

Muslim leaders have reacted angrily to reports that terrorist groups have gained a foothold in the predominantly Muslim north.

The Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria has asked for the release of the al-Qaida suspects, arguing that their arrest is designed to discredit Islam and Muslims in Nigeria.

Nigeria is divided between Christians and Muslims.  Tensions and ethno-religious clashes have been frequent since the introduction of shariah code by 12 northern states in 2000.