Cablegate: The Terror Attacks and U.S. Policy in The
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002520
STATE FOR AF/PD, IIP/G/AF
LAGOS FOR PAS, POL
E.O. 12598: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OIIP SCUL PREL PROP NI
SUBJECT: THE TERROR ATTACKS AND U.S. POLICY IN THE
1. SUMMARY: This cable provides a thumbnail summary of
trends in the Nigerian media since the terror attacks on
New York and Washington on September 11. On the whole,
Nigerians were as shocked by the attacks as Americans. The
media accurately reported the story and the immediate
condemnations of the terror attacks by Nigerian leaders.
They reported that there were also Nigerian casualties.
Media and commentators in the south have tended to be very
supportive of the U.S. While also indicting the terrorism,
media in the north have urged restraint and caution, and
they have demanded proof that Osama bin Laden authored the
attacks. North or south, there has been a generous amount
of "yes, but" commentary. (Yes, we condemn the attacks,
but the U.S. must change its policies.) In recent days,
some northern newspapers have begun to include anti-Semitic
propaganda. The first column outrightly supporting the
Taliban and Osama Bin Laden also has appeared. Topics in
Media Trends Since September 11 . . . . . . .Graf 2
South and North . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Main Themes of Criticism. . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Anti-Semitic Disinformation . . . . . . . . . . . 14
The First Pro-Bin Laden Column. . . . . . . . . . 15
Elite Opinion and Street-and-Market Opinion . . . 17
Media Trends Since September 11
2. The news story of the attacks on New York and
Washington was so overwhelming that it took up to 2/3 of
the domestic TV news for several days. Nigerians know what
happened, and they are keen to learn what the U.S. response
3. The newspapers gave generous ink to the big story, with
many running sensational front page color photos each day
during the first two weeks after the attacks. Several
leading dailies continue to fill 2-6 inside pages daily
with news related to terrorism, the U.S. response, and the
results of the investigations.
4. More or less sound stories have, however, often been
preceded by inaccurate, yellow journalism headlines that
would make William Randolph Hearst proud. In the
headlines, the war tocsins are sounding.
5. The media gave full coverage when Nigeria's government
and the nation's political, religious, and social leaders,
north and south, Chrisian and Muslim, expressed their
condemnation of the attacks. The Embassy has reported that
the early reports of jubilation in Zamfara State were
baseless -- an unverified report by a rookie BBC stringer.
6. Most of the news coverage has come from the
international wires, and from the international papers and
newsmagazines (summary articles, "culled from ---" in the
local argot). The use of the international wires is good
news for the maturing of journalism in Nigeria, but it
initially depressed PAS placements. We are putting out
half a dozen Washington File articles a day to 20 major
newspapers -- but for the first two weeks after the attacks
we had barely half a dozen direct placements. Editors are
relying on the wires to report U.S. policy, not the
7. Nigerians have also gotten the message that non-
Americans were killed in the attacks. Nigerians know that
compatriots are among the victims, but because many of
these victims were illegally in the U.S., using false
names, the specific number and identities of Nigeria's
losses are unknown.
8. Serious reportage and commentary shares the pages with
lighter fare. Many articles have explained to readers how
the attacks were predicted by ... Nostradamus ... the Bible
... the Blessed Mother ... the Koran ... and/or various
South and North
9. It must be recalled at all times that the media in
Nigeria reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of the
country. Also, the attacks on the U.S. occurred just as
Nigeria was undergoing a cycle of social/ethnic/religious
tension. Our best estimate is that 2300 people died in the
violence in Jos, which began four days before the attacks.
This no doubt colors individual Nigerian perceptions of the
terrorist attacks and the possible U.S. response thereto.
10. Some regional differences in the amount of coverage
are evident. Most of the major newspapers in Lagos covered
the story with eye-catching photos and headlines, with
several inside pages developing the story along different
lines. Their pages included dozens of columns, mostly
expressing sympathy for the U.S. In many of the Lagos
papers, there is an undertone of "we've been telling you
so" about religious extremists.
11. The state government-owned newspapers in Nigeria's
largely Muslim north -- the Triumph in Kano, the New
Nigerian in Kaduna, the Path in Sokoto -- have given the
story conspicuously less news coverage. Columns initially
emphasized the need for American restraint, asked for clear
proof of Osama bin Laden's involvement, and advised against
a hasty U.S. response. As the shock of the initial attacks
wears off, however, a few northern columnists are voicing
harsher criticisms of the U.S.
12. South or north, however, it would be wrong to say that
Nigerian news has been crowded out. The news of the
attacks and the U.S. response competes for reader attention
with the normal, contentious political news of the country.
Focus on the Critics
13. Most editorial comment and most columnists -- south
and north -- fall into the "yes, but" category. Yes, the
attacks have been a terrible tragedy for the U.S. and the
world. Yes, we condemn the perpetrators. But ...
... the United States has been humbled.
... the United States, all now can see, is not as powerful
as its image.
... the United States is rushing to judgment against Osama
bin Laden when there is no real proof of his involvement,
violating its own democratic precept that one is innocent
until proven guilty.
... the attacks expressed in a terrible way ...
... how much the U.S. is hated for its unilateralism
and its arrogance in international affairs, or
... how some have reacted to America's one-sided
support of Israel and its sanction of Israeli violence
against the Palestinians, or
... how America deserves punishment for being the
world's worst terrorist (either by act or by silence), in
the Gulf War, in Sudan, against the Iraqi people, against
the Palestinians, etc.
The United States should not rush to judgment against Osama
bin Laden. Remember that the Oklahoma city bombing was
carried out by an American. Remember that one of those
tried for the Lockerbie bombing was found innocent.
The United States cannot act ...
... unless it gives the world conclusive proof that bin
Laden ordered the attacks.
... if any innocents will be harmed.
The killings, assaults, mosque bombings, burnings of
businesses and homes, and racial profiling of Muslims in
the United States are shameful indications of deep American
hostility toward Islam.
The attacks are a consequence of the rich curtain of
dishonesty in the 2000 American election, which put George
Bush in the White House even though he had not been elected
by the majority of the people.
Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories
14. Newspapers over the weekend included some new
conspiracy theories pointing the finger toward Israel and
the Jews as the true perpetrators of the attack. The
independent Weekly Trust -- citing Jordan's Al-Watah --
reported that 4000 Israelis, tipped off by the Israeli
government, stayed away from work on September 11. The
tabloid News Express, reporting the same story, simply said
4000 Jews stayed home. It also reported conspiratorily
that "the 14 story adjoining edifice to the WTC-owned by
the well known Jewish firm of Solomon & Co. was sold off
suddenly about 2 weeks prior to the attack." These
unfortunate stories indicate that a minority of Nigerian
journalists are tuned in to criticisms of the U.S.
emanating from the Middle East and journalistic sources
there. We may need to consider how OIIP can counter this
kind of disinformation.
The First Expression of Support for Bin Laden
15. In its Sunday edition the independent Weekly Trust,
published in Abuja, printed a "Friday discourse" by Dr.
Aliyu Tilde. It is, to our knowledge, the first outright
expression of support for Bin Laden. "While we sympathize
with all nations and families that lost their members in
the WTC attack and hope that actual truth behind it will
one day be discovered, we have chosen today to side with
the Taliban and pray for the safety of Bin Laden or his
martyrdom. America has accused them unjustifiably."
16. Tilde, an educator from Bauchi State, has been known
for many years as a strong critic of the West. This column
is not yet on his web page, www.fridaydiscourse.com.
Visible Elite Opinion and
Village, Market, and Street Opinion
17. The newspapers and the television tend to capture
elite opinion -- the views of those who speak and write
English and read newspapers. The government and prominent
Nigerians who have spoken have roundly condemned the
18. We believe, in this instance, elite opinion reflects
general public opinion. Nonetheless, currents less
sympathetic to the U.S. are visible. What reading and
listening can't tell us, however, is precisely how
widespread this negative reaction is at the popular level -
- in streets and markets. Media coverage generally does
not reveal what the imam may say at Friday prayers, or the
deacon when speaking to fellow congregants. They don't
offer much about how the attacks and American reaction may
affect the matrix of pre-existing social, ethnic, and
religious tensions in Nigeria. The appearance of anti-
Semitic disinformation and a column in support of Bin Laden
may, or may not, be the first in-print expressions of a
more volatile, minority segment of public opinion that
lurked below the surface immediately after the attacks. We
will be alert for further trends.