Suspected sect members charged in Nigeria bombings

Abuja, Nigeria - Eight suspected members of a radical Muslim sect were charged Tuesday with taking part in bombings and attacks around Nigeria's capital that killed at least 25 people, including 16 in an explosion at an election office.

Prosecutors allege the eight suspects belong to the sect known locally as Boko Haram, which campaigns for the strict implementation of Shariah law in the oil-rich nation. The group claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in the country that killed at least 23 people and wounded 81.

However, questions remains over tactics in the court case and whether prosecutions will stop the sect, which is suspected of killing four people Monday night at a beer parlor in northeast Nigeria. With violence increasing, the U.S. government also announced Tuesday it now required its diplomats to get advance permission before visiting Nigeria's Muslim north.

The suspects appeared Tuesday before a magistrate court in Nigeria's capital Abuja, accused of masterminding and carrying out a pre-election attack on an Independent National Electoral Commission office in nearby Suleja in Niger state. Authorities previously said the April 8 bombing killed only eight people, but prosecutors indicated in charging documents Tuesday that 16 people died.

Prosecutors also allege the eight suspects carried out a bombing of a political rally that killed three people March 3, shot three police officers to death May 23 and killed three people in a July 10 bombing of a church.

Previously, Nigeria's secret police announced the arrest of five suspects members of the Boko Haram sect in connection to these slayings, but prosecutors charged eight people on Tuesday. Prosecutor Cliff Osagie did not say Tuesday how security forces found the extra three suspects.

It also remained unclear why prosecutors brought only conspiracy and assault charges against the eight suspects. Nigeria has new strict anti-terrorism laws that call for the death penalty in cases where attacks cause fatalities. On Tuesday, Osagie would only say the charges the suspects currently face carry a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, has carried out increasingly violent sectarian attacks against Nigeria's weak central government in the last year. Both police and the military appear unable to stop the attacks

Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is split largely between a Christian south and a Muslim north. Unemployment and unceasing poverty, coming despite the nation making billions a year from oil production, have fueled resentment in recent years in the north.

Acknowledging the increasing violence, the U.S. embassy in Abuja issued a communique Tuesday to its citizens warning them to be "particularly vigilant" in Abuja as traffic congestion grows from increased military and police checkpoints. The embassy also said its staff now required advance permission to travel anywhere in northern Nigeria.

The country remains vital to U.S. oil supplies, but the crude rests in the nation's southern delta, far from the current violence. However, the U.N. bombing showed a new level of sophistication by Boko Haram and a willingness to target foreigners.

Meanwhile, authorities suspect the sect attacked a beer parlor in the country's northeast Monday night. Borno state police commissioner Simeone Midena told The Associated Press on Tuesday the shooting happened in Maiduguri, where the sect's main mosque once stood. A witness said two gunmen carrying Kalashnikov rifles under their traditional robes attacked the bar.

Midena said no arrests have been made.