LAGOS - Nigeria's main rebel group has warned that the country has become a "threat to world peace" and a fertile ground for Islamic extremism following a Nigerian's botched attempt to blow up a passenger jet over the United States.
The group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), has been conducting a long-standing insurgency in Nigeria's oil-rich southern Niger Delta region.
It said in a statement it "condemns the attempted act of terrorism on Delta flight 253 into the United States by a misguided Islamic extremist from the Northern part of Nigeria".
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the son of a prominent banker from Northern Nigeria, was charged on Saturday with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it was coming into Detroit airport from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. He had flown to Amsterdam from Lagos.
"The young man who attempted this cowardly act is not alone and governments around the world should pay more attention to northern Nigeria with its threat to world peace than to agitation for justice in the Niger Delta which only threatens world oil prices," the statement added.
Northern Nigeria, home to a Muslim majority while the south of the country is mainly Christian, is a "fertile ground" for international terrorism, MEND said.
"The Nigerian government has persistently turned a blind eye to Islamic extremists coming from Northern Nigeria, choosing instead to focus and waste its resources on military hardware and troop deployment in the Niger Delta," said the statement released late Sunday.
MEND said that the "Northern elite" which has controlled the country since independence had condoned Islamic extremism.
"This attempted act of terrorism by this northern Islamic extremist does not come as a surprise to any Nigerian," the statement added.
"For decades, Christians have been murdered and raped in the north of Nigeria with impunity. No northern Muslim has ever been brought to book for the thousands of Christians killed in this region."
MEND is the biggest of a number of armed rebel groups that have been waging a campaign against oil companies and the armed forces in the Niger Delta since 2006, claiming to be fighting for a greater share of oil wealth for local communities.
At the peak of the unrest Nigeria, the world's eighth largest exporter of crude, saw its output slashed by a third.