LAGOS, 17 June (IRIN) - The United States, Russia and several western European countries have temporarily closed their diplomatic missions in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos following a perceived terror threat, officials said on Friday.
The US consulate in Lagos hurriedly closed on Thursday afternoon and dozens of visa applicants were hustled out of the building on Walter Carrington Crescent in the city's up market Ikoyi district.
The US embassy in the federal capital Abuja said in a statement that the building had been closed "because of a security issue of mutual concern to the United States Mission in Nigeria and the government of Nigeria".
In Dakar, Senegal, a US military spokeswoman said on Friday that the consulate had shut down following a telephone threat by suspected terrorists.
"There was some kind of terrorist threat made. It was a terrorist threat that was called in," Major Holly Silkman, a spokeswoman for the US European Command, told reporters on the sidelines of a joint US military training exercise with the armed forces of several West African countries.
The US consulate in Lagos remained closed on Friday and the nearby consulates of Russia, Britain, Germany and Italy, which are situated in the same street, also shut down.
Dozens of armed police were deployed to the area on Thursday night.
They set up a checkpoint at the entrance to Walter Carrington Crescent and began checking people and cars going into it with metal detectors.
Three police vans, including one belonging to a bomb disposal squad, were parked in front of the US consulate and a large contingent of police were deployed around the building.
Armed police also took the place of long queues of visa seekers outside the nearby Russian, British, German and Italian consulates.
"There is a terrorist threat here," one policeman explained to a group of passers by as he screened them.
Nigerian police spokesman Emmanuel Ighodalo said the United States had asked for more police protection for its Lagos consulate in view of a situation that it regarded as threatening.
He refused to elaborate, but stressed: "Nigeria is a very safe country".
Elsewhere, in Ikoyi, the French Consulate remained open for business as usual on Friday.
Nigeria has so far been free from terror attacks.
However, fears of a strike have been growing since the appearance of a tape recording attributed to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden two years ago, which named Nigeria as one of the nations that urgently need to be freed from Western influence.
With a population of more than 126 million roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a largely Christian south, religious and ethnic tensions are often high.
Thousands of people have died in outbreaks of ethnic and religious violence since President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected in 1999, ending more than 15 years of military rule.
In the past two years, a group, which draws inspiration from the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, has taken up arms in northeastern Nigeria and has sporadically engaged the security forces in gun battles.
The United States has expressed concern about the possible repeat of the 1998 attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in several West African countries, including Nigeria, an important US oil supplier.
Nigeria is one of several West African countries whose security forces have received US military training to deter terrorist infiltration.
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