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ABUJA (Reuters) - Fearing attacks by Islamist militant group Boko Haram over Christmas, Nigerian police said on Sunday they had ordered extra patrols, surveillance and covert operations to better secure potential targets during the festive period.
The militants have struck every Christmas for the past three years, most dramatically in 2011, when they bombed three churches. One of them, on St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, on the edge of Abuja, killed 37 people and wounded 57.
"All the strike forces and specialized units of the force have been adequately mobilized to ... provide water-tight security," police spokesman Frank Mba said in a statement.
"Covert operations, round-the-clock surveillance, and ... patrols are being intensified, while particular attention is now constantly paid to strategic public places, including places of worship, recreation centers, shopping malls ... government installations."
President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticized by the opposition, the media and Western diplomats for failing to protect civilians during the 4-1/2 year insurgency, which began as a clerical movement opposed to Western influences but morphed into a fully fledged insurrection, forging links with al Qaeda-inspired groups in the Sahara.
Like those groups, Boko Haram believe Christians are infidels who must be converted or killed.
A wave of church attacks around early 2012 raised fears they were trying to trigger a sectarian civil war in a country with the world's largest mixed population of Christians and Muslims, although the feared reprisals never materialized.
Jonathan last month extended a state of emergency in the northeast areas worst affected by the insurgency. A military offensive since May has failed to quell the rebellion, and Boko Haram has mounted several counter-attacks.
Reporting by Felix Obuah; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Alison Williams