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Nigeria 'freed UN bomb suspect'

Nigeria detained and released several radical Muslims suspected of being terrorists in 2007 - including a man said to have helped organise last week's deadly car bombing at the United Nations headquarters in the nation's capital.

The men arrested four years ago had allegedly been caught with explosives. Their rapid release from detention was apparently aimed at placating Muslim groups, but it has now come back to haunt security officials who fear a growing wave of al Qaida-linked terror attacks in Nigeria, a main supplier of oil to the United States.

Some of those arrested in October 2007 were even plotting to carry out attacks in the United States and to attack American targets in Africa's most populous country, said a high-ranking official who claimed direct knowledge of the arrests.

Nigeria remains very sensitive to any suggestion it is a haven for terrorists and the information released at the time of the arrests was fairly vague. It was not immediately clear if Nigeria shared information about the purported anti-US plots with US officials.

The US embassy had no immediate comment but in a report on global terror threats, the State Department said diplomats issued a warning to US citizens in 2007 about possible attacks on US and Western interests in Nigeria.

It also noted that Nigerian authorities said they arrested at least 10 suspected terrorists in northern Nigeria late that year with alleged ties to al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

A former US ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, who left the country several months before the 2007 arrests, said Pakistanis would have stood out in northern Nigeria. Mr Campbell, now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said he had no information about arrests of any Pakistanis.

Top security officials in the administration of then-President Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim, released the rounded-up men shortly after their arrests, with some facing a few hasty sham trials, the Nigerian official said.

One of those men was Babagana Ismail Kwaljima, also known as Abu Summaya, who was arrested again days before the August 26 bombing at the United Nations compound in Abuja that killed at least 23 people, the official said.

Kwaljima is accused of helping mastermind the UN bombing. A second man was also arrested and police are looking for a third with "al Qaida links" who recently travelled in Somalia, where al Qaida-linked group al-Shabab is battling the beleaguered UN-backed government.

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