ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria will bring terrorism "under control" and confront the radical Muslim sect that claimed responsibility for a car bombing at the country's United Nations headquarters, killing at least 19 people, its president vowed Saturday amid the wreckage.
President Goodluck Jonathan stepped through shattered glass and past dried pools of blood at the damaged building as U.N. employees salvaged printers, computers and all they could carry to keep the mission running.
The U.N.'s top official in Nigeria promised humanitarian aid would continue to flow through the world body to Africa's most populous nation, even though the Boko Haram sect — which claimed responsibility for the attack — views it as a target.
"I think it gives us more strength to continue helping the population," said Agathe Lawson, the U.N.'s acting resident coordinator in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the feared sect told journalists Saturday in its home of northeast Nigeria that it considers the U.S, the U.N. and the Nigerian government the "common enemies" in its fight, promising future attacks.
Jonathan walked by the battered exit gate the suicide bomber rammed through to reach the massive U.N. building's glass reception hall Friday morning. There, the bomber detonated explosives powerful enough to bring down parts of the concrete structure and blow out glass windows from other buildings in the quiet neighborhood filled with diplomatic posts.
A bevy of bodyguards, police, soldiers and members of the country's secret police surrounded Jonathan on his tour. The soft-spoken president promised journalists gathered there that the nation would stand up to terrorism, though Boko Haram continues to carry out bombings and assassinations seemingly at will.
"Terrorist attacks on any individual or part of the world is a terrorist attack on the rest of the world," Jonathan said. "Terrorists don't care about who is anywhere."
Jonathan did not say who was responsible for the attack, only addressing Boko Haram in response to a reporter's question.
"Boko Haram is a local group linked up with terrorist activities," the president said. "As a government, we are working on this and we will bring it under control."
The president did not elaborate on that comment, as his aides hustled him off into a convoy of armored Mercedes Benz sedans, police trucks and motorcycles.
The death toll for the attack rose to 19 on Saturday, said Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency. At least 15 of the dead were U.N. personnel, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Friday night from New York. However, a U.N. statement sent Saturday from the Nigeria office said nine U.N. staffers were confirmed dead and dozens were hospitalized.
The National Hospital in Abuja alone treated 75 injured people from the bomb blast Friday, said Obasi Ekumankama, the hospital's director of clinical services.
The U.N. had yet to complete a head count of its staff at the building, which houses about 400 workers, Lawson said.
A U.N. team that includes Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and security chief Gregory Starr was expected to arrive in Abuja late Saturday night. But other help is already being given by the international community: A U.S. embassy car carrying what local authorities described as FBI agents arrived at the bomb site a short time after Jonathan left.
Deb MacLean, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Abuja, said FBI agents "were on the ground" to assist after the bombing. She declined to elaborate.
Security appeared tighter than normal in Abuja, about 550 miles (880 kilometers) northeast of the country's megacity of Lagos. Soldiers wearing flak jackets blocked the main highway heading into the city from Abuja's international airport Saturday morning, checking passing vehicles.
Friday's bombing represented the first suicide attack targeting foreigners by Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language. The group, which has reported links to al-Qaida, wants to implement a strict version of Shariah law in the nation and is vehemently opposed to Western education and culture. It claimed responsibility for a similar car bombing at the country's federal police headquarters in Abuja in June that killed at least two people.
Earlier this month, the commander for U.S. military operations in Africa told The Associated Press that Boko Haram may be trying to coordinate attacks with two al-Qaida-linked groups — al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in northwest Africa, and al-Shabab in Somalia.
A Nairobi-based diplomat told the AP on Saturday that at least 19 Nigerians had arrived late in 2010 and stayed with Somali Islamist militia al-Shabab in the house of a former Somali general in the rebel-held part of Mogadishu until April. Several of them were believed to be members of Boko Haram, the diplomat said.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The sect itself spoke out to journalists gathered Saturday in the city of Maiduguri, its home before members started a 2009 riot that saw a security crackdown that left 700 people dead. A man who identified himself as Abu Kakah told journalists in a telephone interview that the sect continued to launch attacks because of the government's harassment of its members.
"We attacked and bombed the U.N. offices in Abuja because the United States and U.N. are both fully supporting the federal government of Nigeria in persecuting and attacking Muslims all over the country with no cause or justification," Kakah said in Hausa. He later promised future attacks in the north, saying the sect would release information soon about the suicide bomber who attacked the U.N. headquarters.
On Saturday, U.N. employees milled around the outside of the damaged headquarters, some wiping away tears. One woman spoke of a relative she believed was dead and buried amid the rubble.
Lawson, the U.N.'s acting resident coordinator, said workers already set up another office to continue their work, though much more space was needed to carry out the body's work. Nigeria, a country of 150 million people largely split between a Christian south and Muslim north, remains desperately poor after decades of oil wealth being squandered by its political elite.
The U.N. will continue to provide food and health care to the nation's teeming poor despite the bombing, Lawson said.
Now, however, the international body needs assistance as well.
"We prepared," Lawson said, facing the broken building's giant "U.N. Cares" banner. "Security was in place, but it is never enough."
Associated Press writers Njadvara Musa in Maiduguri, Nigeria and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP