20 February 2013

Nigeria: Iranian Militants Send Nigerian Terrorist After Americans, Israelis in Lagos

Photo: Gbemiga Olamikan/Vanguard
Former president Ibrahim Babangida (middle)

Iranian extremists trained and equipped a Nigerian accomplice to go after American and Israeli interests in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital, in a broad-based plot that would have killed many, the State Security Service said on Wednesday.

The proposed attacker, Abdullahi Mustapha Berende, from Kwara State, south-west Nigeria, was tasked by the Iranians with setting up a terrorist cell in Lagos, spying and striking multiple targets, including hotels frequented by Americans and Israelis, the SSS said.

The US aid organization, USAID, organizations such as Max, Zim international shipping company, A. A. consulting, Peace corp. and the Jewish cultural centre, Chabad at Ikoyi, were all targeted.

"Lagos was preferred because his handlers believed that the Israelis have an intelligence facility there that is used in spying on Iran," spokesperson for the service, Marilyn Ogar said on Wednesday at a news conference.

To aide his operations, Mr. Berende recruited Sulaiman Saka, Saheed Adewumi and Bunyamin Yusuf.

Mr. Berende and Messrs Saka and Adewumi have been arrested, the SSS said.

Part of the arrangement, Ms. Ogar said, was for Mr. Berende to target Nigerians he believed if attacked, could "unsettle" the West. He named former military ruler, Ibrahim Babangida, and the former Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki, for that onslaught.

How attacks on the two former leaders could potentially pose such threat, remained unclear. The SSS said it quoted from Mr. Berende's confessional statement, and did not provide further details.

As usual with many investigations by Nigeria police and the SSS, no forensic highlights, or analysis establishing the indictments were cited, beyond confession.

Still, the audacious plot, as narrated by the service's spokesperson, seemed to highlight the potentials of Nigeria's domestic terrorism thriving to provide a platform for subjects of intense international dispute.

Ms. Ogar said the confessions had provided "conclusive evidence" that Mr. Berende, in collaboration with Iranian handlers, were involved in grievous crimes against Nigerian security.

"Accordingly, Berende and his accomplices will be charged to court soon," she said.

Mr. Berende, a 50-year-old man, was tracked through six months of investigation.

His contact with the Iranians, the service said, began after he was observed to have made several "suspicious" trips to and from Iran, where he interacted with known leaders of high profile international terrorist network.

A leader of the local Shiite sect in Ilorin, his home town, Mr. Berende said he gained admission for a six-month programme in Modern Shi'a Islamic Teaching (Da'awa) at Imam Khomeni University, Iran.

After his contact with the foreign extremists, he returned for studies there in 2011 during which he received training in weapons handling and the use of improvised devices.

He received specific mandate to establish a cell in Lagos, and coordinate attacks within the south west region under the cover of running a business in Lagos.

To help start a business as a cover, he received three tranches of payments in foreign currencies, namely $4,000, €3,500 and $20,000.

Before his arrest, he admitted to having taken photographs of the Israeli cultural centre Ikoyi and sending same to the Iranian gang.

The Iranian Embassy is yet to react to the claims by the Nigerian security officials and could not be reached on the telephone lines on the Embassy website.

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