YOLA, Nigeria - Soldiers in a Nigerian state at the heart of an Islamist revolt shut down all venues preparing to screen live World Cup matches on Wednesday, hoping to stave off the kind of attacks that have killed more than 20 people in the past two weeks.
The Nigerian government also advised residents of Abuja to avoid public viewing centers as the World Cup kicks off in Brazil in case of attacks.
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Nigeria has witnessed an increasingly bold series of assaults over the past five years by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, including the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April.
Since then, militants have set off a car bomb that killed 18 people watching a game on television at a center in the settlement of Gavan on June 1.
A week before, a suicide bomber set out for an open-air screening of a match in Nigeria’s central city of Jos. His car blew up on the way, killing three people.
Such assaults on often-ramshackle television viewing centers across Africa have raised fears militant groups will target supporters gathering to cheer on the global soccer contest.
“Our action is not to stop Nigerians ... watching the World Cup. It is to protect their lives," Brigadier-General Nicholas Rogers said on Wednesday.
Many fans had been relying on the viewing centers - often open-sided structures with televisions set up in shops and side streets - to watch live coverage of their national squad, the "Super Eagles."
Boko Haram - whose name roughly translates as "Western education is sinful" - has declared war on all signs of what it sees as corrupting Western influence.