The diplomatic spat is not the first between Nigerian and Iran. The Iranian government has dismissed allegations it was behind an emergent terrorist cell in Nigeria, targeting American and Israeli interests, saying the claim was sponsored by Israel and the US, its ark enemies, to incite anger against Iran.
A statement from the Iranian embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, said on Friday, the allegation by Nigeria’s secret police was an attempt at "Iranophobia", sponsored by the U.S. and Israel. "Due to the situation and position of the Islamic Republic of Iran," the embassy said, "some powerful and domineering states by resorting to the illegitimate means and by organising and supporting terrorism and delinquent groups, have attempted to work out and implement the Iranophobia project in countries which enjoy good capacity in terms of cooperation with Iran," Iran "strongly rejected" the claims, the statement said.
The State Security Services, SSS, said on Wednesday it arrested a Nigerian, Abdullahi Mustapha Berende, who was reportedly trained by Iranian militants belonging to international terrorist groups, to set up cells in Lagos and target American and Israeli interests. Mr. Berende said he underwent trainings in 2006 and later in 2011, and received funding to start business as a cover for his operations in Lagos. Besides hotels frequented by Americans and Israelis in Lagos, the U.S. aid organization, USAID, organisations such as Max, Zim international shipping company, A. A. consulting, Peace corp. and the Jewish cultural centre, Chabad at Ikoyi, were all targeted in the attack.
"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. Mr. Berende was arrested alongside two other suspects, and are to be charged to court soon, the service said. But Iranian embassy in Abuja did not respond to specific questions such as whether Mr. Berende ever got a visa to travel to Iran from the Embassy, and whether the embassy shared information with the SSS during the investigation. Iran’s first reaction to the allegation came on Friday with its Deputy Foreign Minister, Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, quoted by Iranian state television as saying the allegations were "made up as the result of the ill will of the enemies of the two countries’ good relations".
"Iran and Nigeria have friendly and close relations and despite the vast efforts of the two countries’ enemies in recent years, relations and cooperation’s have always improved," Mr. Amir-Abdllahian said. In the statement from the embassy, Iran said it considered Nigeria an "important and effective" country that deserved her cooperation and expansion of interest. "The Islamic Republic of Iran firmly believes that the federal government of Nigeria through wise and foresighted approach and with the support of the people can identify the roots of unrest and terrorism in the country and eliminate them and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will spare no efforts to assists and accompany Nigeria," it said.
The statement added that with "good office and wise approach" such allegations will no longer arise to the dismay of the enemies of Iran, an apparent reference to the US and Israel. The diplomatic spat is not the first between Nigerian and Iran. In 2004, Israeli sources said an Iranian diplomat was arrested on suspicion of spying on the Israeli embassy in Nigeria’s capital Abuja. Tehran denied any arrest. In 2010, authorities at a Lagos port found a hidden shipment of rockets, rifle rounds and other weapons from Iran, supposedly bound for Gambia. A Nigerian and an Iranian face criminal charges over the shipment.