The State Security Service said in Abuja on Wednesday that it had uncovered a terror network, coordinated by Iranians, in Lagos.
The SSS said this while parading a leader of an Islamic sect, Abdullahi Berende, and two others said to be operators of the Iranian terror cell gathering information about Israelis and Americans living in Nigeria.
Paraded alongside 50-year-old Berende were Sulaiman Saka and Saheed Adewunmi. The three were said to be working for Iranian terrorists planning to attack Americans and Israelis in the country.
A third suspect, Bunyamin Yusuf, is said to be at large.
Berende who is said to be a leader of the Shi’a Islamic sect in Ilorin, Kwara State, told journalists that he was employed by “people who were ready to capitalise on my weakness,” though he denied being part of a terrorist network.
Deputy Director Public Relations, SSS, Marilyn Ogar, told journalists that Berende, an Islamic teacher, and local leader of the Shiite sect, was observed to have made several suspicious trips to and fro Iran where he interacted with some Iranians known to operate a high profile international terrorist network.
Ogar said that in the course of interrogation, Berende confessed that in 2006, he gained admission to study a six-month course in modern Shi’a Islamic teaching (Da’awa) at Imam Khomeini University, Iran.
She said, “Berende confessed that he was recruited by some Iranian elements when he returned to Iran for further studies in 2011 and was subsequently trained in the use of AK47 assault rifle, pistols, production and detonation of Improvised Explosive Devices and after he returned to Nigeria, he was invited by his handlers to Dubai for further briefing in April 2012; he was tasked to establish a terrorist cell in the South-Western part of Nigeria with particular emphasis on Lagos.”
The SSS boss further explained that in his bid to establish the terror network, Berende recruited Saka, Adewunmi and Yusuf, adding that the Iranian sponsors requested that he identified and gathered intelligence on public places and prominent hotels frequented by Americans and Israelis.
Ogar added that the Islamic teacher admitted that he personally took photographs of the Israeli cultural centre in Ikoyi, Lagos, which he sent to his trainers.
“The suspect said that his Iranian handlers directed him to secure their communication by using codes to represent targets, e.g. Uncle (Israel), Aunt (America) and that Lagos was preferred (as operation centre) because his handlers believed that the Israelis have an intelligence facility there that is used in spying on Iran.
“There is conclusive evidence that Berende in collaboration with his Iranian handlers was involved in grievous crimes against the national security of this country. Accordingly, Berende and his accomplices will be charged to court soon.”
Berende was said to have confessed to interrogators that he received $4,000 upon completion of his training in Iran; €3,500 in April, 2012 at the meeting in Dubai; and another $20,000, out of which he used $10,000 in relocating to Lagos from Ilorin, furnishing a house and renting a shop for his business.
He also spent $5000 to cover visa processing expenses while the remaining $5000 was for his up-keep.
Berende who claimed to be a Master’s student at the University of Ilorin, in an interview with journalists said he regretted “betraying my country”, adding that his handler whom he referred to as Amir, preyed on his weakness.
He denied working for any international or local terror network, adding that his handler only requested him to get information on American and Israeli targets in Lagos.
“Despite my education, despite my experiences in guiding people, I still fell prey to this kind of machination; it’s a regrettable phenomenon to me and I am not proud of it. Every Nigerian should watch out for people who are there to capitalise on their weaknesses,” he said.
Attempts to reach the Iranian Embassy for comments on Wednesday were unsuccessful as of the time of this report.
Calls to the Embassy’s two fixed and one mobile telephone lines by one of our correspondents did not go through.
The Iranian Embassy in Nigeria is located behind the National Headquarters of the SSS.
A Nigerian employee of the Embassy who asked not to be named for fear of retribution said, “I have not heard about this and we have closed for the day, I think you have to wait till tomorrow.”
He promised to send the contacts of the new Media Relations Officer, a certain Mr. Farah, but never did
An Iranian, Azim Aghajani, is currently being prosecuted for importing arms and ammunition into Nigeria.
Aghajani, a Tehran businessman, is also a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Three Nigerians were also charged in connection with the shipment, which contained rockets and grenades hidden among building materials.
The court said Aghajani had been charged with attempting to import prohibited arms into Nigeria and conspiring to send the illegal shipment to the Gambia.
Two of the three Nigerian defendants were only charged with conspiring to re-export the shipment to the Gambia.
Meanwhile, the Senate and the House of Representatives on Wednesday said they had harmonised their differences on the Bill for an Act to Amend the Terrorism (Prevention)Act 2011.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Senator Mohammed Magoro, while presenting the conference report on the floor of the Senate, said the House version on the death penalty for terrorists was adopted instead of the Senate’s life imprisonment.
Section 1(2) of the bill reads: “A person or body corporate who knowingly in or outside Nigeria directly or indirectly willingly (a) does, attempts or threatens any act of terrorism; (b) commits an act of preparatory to or in furtherance of an act of terrorism; (c) omits to do anything that is reasonably necessary to prevent an act of terrorism; (d) assists or facilitates the activities of persons engaged in an act of terrorism or is an accessory to any offence under this Act. “(e) participates as an accomplice in the commission of an offence under this act; (f) assists, facilitates, organises or directs the activities of persons or organisations engaged in any act of terrorism; (g) is an accessory to any offence under this act; (h) participates as an accomplice in or contributes to the commission of any act of terrorism or offences under this Act, or (i) incites, promises, induces any other person by any means whatsoever to commit any act of the offences referred to in this Act commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to maximum of death sentence.”
Magoro said the House version which vested the coordination counter terrorism activities in the National Security Adviser, was also adopted.