Airtel towers in Nigeria under attack by radical Islamic sect
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Members of a radical Islamic sect attacked and damaged several mobile phone masts, including those belonging to a subsidiary of India's Airtel in northern Nigeria.
Officials say more than 20 towers have been damaged since Tuesday in different parts of the north. Spokesman for Airtel Nigeria, Emeka Opara said the companies' facilities were destroyed in four northern states of Borno, Gombe, Yobe, and Kano.
A military spokesman blamed the militant Islamist group Boko Haram for the first such attacks on nine mobile phone companies.
The attacks came six months after the sect threatened to attack Nigerian telecom companies, accusing them of breaking their "ethical obligations" and helping the security forces to monitor and track down its members.
A witness said an Airtel tower in Sharada industrial zone of Kano was burnt by two of the attackers who came with guns and cutlasses.
More than 20 towers belonging to several companies have so far been destroyed by the criminals, officials have confirmed.
South Africa's MTN were also hit by the assailants numbering up to ten who destroyed eight masts and burnt down several of its offices in Maiduguri, according to eyewitnesses.
But MTN issued a statement saying that customers may experience outright network failures due to the attacks.
Landlines are non-existent in Nigeria and the country's population depends on mobile telephony and the attack could lead to a major hiccup that could have serious economic consequences.
Experts say the damage is like to run into millions of dollars as the cost of a single tower can exceed $ 1million.
Boko Haram launched a military campaign in 2009 to fight for Islamic rule, bombing government buildings, churches and assassinating moderate Muslim clerics.
Airtel started by investing USD 600 million in Nigeria's mobile market in 2010 following its take-over of the holdings of Kuwaiti-based Zain after closing a $ 10.7 billion deal.