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U.N. mourns 23 killed in Nigeria as conflicting views on safety aired

Two top U.N. officials offered conflicting views Sunday on the safety of its Nigeria headquarters after a suicide car bombing there, as the world body paused to mourn the people killed in the attack claimed by a radical Muslim sect.

The death toll for Friday's attack, initially 18, rose to 23 Sunday, said Martin Dawes, a U.N. spokesman. Dawes said 81 people were wounded in the attack. Burial arrangements were still being made for the dead, who included Nigerians, a Kenyan and a citizen of Ivory Coast, Migiro said.

U.N. security chief Gregory Starr acknowledged that safety features "could have been better" to stop the speeding sedan loaded with explosives. But only hours later, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told journalists that the building had "really, really tight" security.

Migiro earlier laid bouquets of red and white roses near a U.N. flag flying at half staff at the site of Friday's attack, along with Nigeria's foreign minister and the body's acting local representative. She promised the U.N. would continue its work no matter what in Nigeria, an oil-rich country of 150 million people now violently divided by religion and ethnicity.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by terrorism," Migiro said.

A suicide bomber rammed through two sets of gates to reach the U.N. building's glass reception hall. There, the bomber detonated explosives powerful enough to bring down parts of the concrete structure and blow out glass windows from other buildings in the quiet neighborhood filled with diplomatic posts.

While U.N. guards weren't armed, Starr said the Nigerian government provided the compound armed security. It remains unclear how those forces responded, though Nigeria's federal police are more known for asking for bribes and intimidating civilians than protecting the public.

The U.N. also had no specific intelligence or information about Boko Haram, the radical Muslim sect from Nigeria's northeast that claimed responsibility for the attack.

"We had some general threats worldwide and some very mixed, general threat information about the environment" in Nigeria, Starr said. "But no, [we had] no advanced warning."

The U.N. compound had a long driveway that allowed the suicide bomber to pick up speed, Starr acknowledged. The gates were not heavy, as Migiro shook them herself while touring the rubble-strewn grounds. The gates also did not have one-way traffic spikes nor any additional barriers to stop a speeding vehicle.

Despite that, Migiro said the building's security remained strong enough to provide protection while allowing the public access to the U.N.

"If people are plotting, no matter what we're doing, we may continue to be targets," she said.

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