ABUJA, Nigeria — Unknown gunmen abducted a German working for a construction company in a north Nigeria city where a radical Islamist sect last week killed 185 people, police said Thursday, underscoring the continuing unrest in the region.
The kidnapping came as Nigeria's new top police official took command of the nation's ill-equipped and under-trained force, despite already being tarnished by allegations he allowed religious and ethnic violence that killed 1,000 people in 2001 to spiral out of control.
Violence in north Nigeria continued Thursday with the kidnapping of the German who worked for Dantata & Sawoe Construction Company Ltd. Local police spokesman Magaji Musa Majiya said two gunmen in a sedan abducted the man while he was at a construction site.
Telephone numbers advertised for the construction company did not work Thursday. The German Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said that authorities had heard the report and that the ministry and the embassy were working together with all resources to learn more.
Majiya said officers continue to investigate the abduction. No one claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but it came after Boko Haram's coordinated attack last week in Kano that saw police stations, immigration offices and the local headquarters of the secret police bombed.
Meanwhile, Mohammed D. Abubakar took over Thursday as inspector general of the Nigeria Police Force, an agency still roughly organized and as maligned as it was when the British colonial government created it in 1861. Today, more than a fourth of its officers serve as personal attendants and drivers to the oil-rich nation's elite, while others extort bribes from motorists at checkpoints.
Abubakar, who previously served as police commissioner in Lagos, found himself appointed to the position after President Goodluck Jonathan forced Inspector Gen. Hafiz Ringim to retire several months early Wednesday. Criticism had grown over Ringim's management after a series of attacks by the sect known as Boko Haram, including one that saw the force's headquarters bombed in June. The final straw appeared to be the sect's coordinated assault last week in Kano that saw at least 185 people killed.
Yet in 2001, Abubakar served as the top police official for Jos as the city edged closer to violence. Civil rights activists accused the commissioner of ignoring warning signs and their messages asking him to mediate the growing turmoil. On Sept. 7, 2001, the city erupted in violence, pitting Christians against Muslims in violence that has repeated itself in years since.
The attacks killed about 1,000 people, Human Rights Watch said, violence that went unnoticed on the world stage as the Sept. 11 terror attack happened soon after. Some of the violence could have been averted by the police – including one instance where officers turned away a Muslim man trying to find protection for a Christian later killed, Human Rights Watch said. Officers also did not deploy to stop attacks at the city's university.
"The police commissioner kept saying everything was under control while the whole town was on fire," one local human rights activist told Human Rights Watch after the rioting.
Abubakar was transferred to Abia state in November 2001. A later report by Plateau state officials on the incident called for him to be fired from the federal police.
In a statement Wednesday announcing Ringim's ouster, the presidency described Abubakar's appointment "as a first step towards the comprehensive reorganization and repositioning of the Nigeria Police Force to make it more effective and capable of meeting emerging internal security challenges."
Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati told The Associated Press on Thursday that officials had no concerns over Abubakar's handling of the Jos riots, as he had proved himself over the last decade in other assignments.
"The man was in fact promoted, so that means that the indictment had no effect whatsoever," Abati said.
It remains unclear what effect Abubakar's leadership will have on police, though he has been lauded for his anti-robbery campaigns in the time since the 2001 Jos violence. Nigeria's police force remains under-equipped and unable to investigate major terror attacks like those carried out by Boko Haram.
Abubakar himself acknowledged Thursday the challenges facing him, but said his administration "will not tolerate any act of indiscipline."
"Crime and criminality, whatever name you give it whether it is Boko Haram or armed robbery, we shall fight crime in all its ramifications," he said.
Boko Haram wants to implement strict Shariah law and avenge the deaths of Muslims in communal violence across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people split largely into a Christian south and Muslim north. The group, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, has now killed at least 262 people in 2012, more than half of the at least 510 people the sect killed in all of 2011, according to an Associated Press count.
Meanwhile, police in Kano said that a bomb blast hit a motor park Thursday in Sabon Gari, a largely Christian neighborhood. Majiya said the blast caused no injuries.
Associated Press writers Ibrahim Garba in Kano, Nigeria; Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria; Yinka Ibukun in Lagos, Nigeria and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.