25 March 2013

Nigeria: How Raid Disrupted Plot to Bomb Lagos

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A raid carried out by security agents last Thursday on Ijora Badia, a Lagos neighbourhood, may have saved the nation's commercial capital from possible multiple attacks by terrorists, THISDAY investigations revealed Sunday.

The raid, carried out by both operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) and Operation Mesa (OP Mesa), a combined security outfit comprising the police and the armed forces, led to the arrest of some suspects.

New details obtained by THISDAY showed that contrary to the initial information from security agencies that only two suspected Boko Haram members were arrested during the raid, over 14 persons were nabbed and are currently in custody undergoing interrogation.

A top security source confided in this newspaper that it was during interrogation that the security operatives obtained details of the planned attacks on Lagos, which include the simultaneous bombing of 16 landmarks, including public utilities that would have exacted maximum casualties in the city.

The main target of the terrorists, the source added, were tank farms, which contain highly inflammable petroleum products and when bombed would aid the intensity of the explosions to increase the death toll.

This is the second time in one month security agents have foiled terrorist plots to bomb targets in Lagos.

Last month, three persons said to be members of a Shiite sect were arrested in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. They were alleged to have plotted to attack some Israeli and American interests in Lagos.

The group is led by a local Shiite leader from Ilorin, who received training in Iran in armed combat and the use of improvised explosive devices. The group was planning attacks on the Lagos offices of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Haifa-based ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Limited and the Jewish Cultural Centre.

The source identified one of the suspects arrested in last Thursday's raid as the armourer of the group, who it was gathered, had no inkling that he was surrounded before his arrest.

He was said to have been studying the Quran when the squad raided the neighbourhood and picked him up along with others, who included suicide bombers who were said to have been recruited to carry out the nefarious acts.

According to the security source, during the raid on the armourer's apartment, the security agents recovered a cache of arms, which included bombs and the remote controls to be used to detonate them once they had been planted at the designated points.

The operational vehicles arranged to transport the bombs to their designated places were also among other items recovered during the raid.

THISDAY further learnt that the arrested mastermind had planned to set up terrorist cells in Lagos from where the terrorists would infiltrate other parts of the South-west to recruit suicide bombers for their operations.

Another security chief, who spoke to THISDAY on the issue, however, allayed the fears of the public, saying timely raids would prevent such cells from taking root.

He said: "We need to prevent them from establishing their cells in Lagos or any other part of the country for that matter.

"We need to nip it in the bud because if they succeed, then there will be serious trouble in Lagos. It beats the mind to imagine what would have happened if these men had succeeded in bombing, for example, the Third Mainland Bridge during rush hour.

"That is why we are calling on members of the public to feed us with information that would enable us remain at the top of our game. You can imagine, the mastermind moved into that compound three months ago and nobody suspected anything. We need members of the public to always be conscious of their environment."

It was also learnt that following the shocking discovery in the residence of the mastermind, his neighbours promptly relocated to safer places.

Their relocation might not be unconnected with the decision by the state government to demolish the building.

Investigations further revealed that the bomb scare prompted the authorities to check their records to see if there was a permit for the building, which the government is now saying was built beside a canal.

According to sources, the house from which the suspected Boko Haram leader was arrested was said to have brought other structures in that neighbourhood to the spotlight and might influence the government's decision to demolish them too.

Another source, a top police officer, said last Thursday's raid was just one of the several already carried out by the police in preemptive strikes to check criminal elements, adding that the proposed demolition of the building was a welcome development.

He said: "On several occasions, we had carried out raids on that Ijora area because of the several criminal elements that use the canal as a hiding place after robberies. Ordinarily, people shouldn't have been permitted to build their homes that close to a canal."

He said with the shocking revelation of the arrest, the police have tightened security in the neighbourhood and other parts of Lagos, adding: "We are fully equipped to tackle threats of this nature.

"With the information made available on the targets, security has been beefed up already to prevent it from happening. Lagosians should not panic but go about their activities because we are on top of the situation.

"All the same, Nigerians should commend the SSS which alongside OP Mesa ferreted out the information, mounted surveillance and acted promptly."

THISDAY discovered that as part of proactive measures aimed at arresting other members of the group, the security agencies have engaged the services of the leaders of all the Hausa communities in Lagos.

At a meeting with the community leaders, including clerics, the security agencies had pleaded for cooperation.

The security chiefs appealed to the Hausa community to report any strange activities in their different environments, to fully investigate the source of livelihood of new faces in their community, and report any suspicion to the security agencies.

The Hausa community leaders were said to have expressed their preparedness to assist security agencies in safeguarding public safety.

The state SSS Director, Mr. Ben Achu-Olayi, did not pick his calls or reply to a text message sent to his phone to shed more light on the issue.

However, the spokesperson, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Colonel Kingsley Umoh, in a telephone interview, said he would speak with the media on the issue today.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Police Command has tightened security in and around the state.

THISDAY confirmed that both uniformed and plain-clothes policemen were posted round the state to monitor activities.

Places like Jakande Estate, Isolo, Apapa, Ijora, Ikeja, Mile 2, Isolo, Okota and Oshodi, amongst several others on the mainland as well as the Third Mainland Bridge, Falomo and Bonny Camp were placed under strict surveillance.

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