Nigeria arrests nine Independence Day blasts suspects

Nigerian intelligence authorities said they were holding nine people believed to have links with an ex-militant leader arrested in connection with deadly independence Day bombings.

“So far nine arrests have been made and all have direct links with militant leader Henry Okah and some unscrupulous prominent elements in the society,” said Marilyn Ogar, spokeswoman for Nigeria’s intelligence services, on Monday.

She refused to give details of the suspects.

Police had earlier said they were holding one suspect, a foreigner, and were hunting down two Nigerians thought to be the masterminds of the attacks, but it was not clear if they were among the nine.

Okah, ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), was arrested on Saturday in Johannesburg, the day after twin car bombings in Nigeria’s capital Abuja killed 12 people.

Statements in the name of MEND, a Nigerian militant group based in the southern oil rich region, have claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Ogar said the arrested suspects “have direct links to Henry Okah, not MEND.”

President Goodluck Jonathan implicated “a small terrorist group that resides outside Nigeria that was paid by some people.”

The former rebel group leader Okah, who is resident in Johannesburg, remained in custody in South Africa on Monday after a court postponed his bail hearing to October 14.

Ogar said the attacks were initially planned to be staged two days prior to Nigeria’s independence anniversary celebrations, but that plan was “foiled” by security forces.

“The overriding objective of the group was to scare foreign visitors from attending the 50th anniversary celebrations,” she said.

Deadliest blast ever
The bombings near celebrations marking the west African nation’s 50 years of independence were attended by tens of thousands of people, including several African heads of states.

The attack was the first ever to be staged in Nigeria’s administrative capital and the deadliest MEND has claimed responsibity for.

In an email to AFP, MEND said the attack was “symbolic” and “not intended to maim or kill”.

The blasts killed 12 people and left 38 wounded, according to national police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu.

Okah has denied any involvement in the car bombings, according to his lawyers.

Okah was arrested in Angola three years ago for high treason and arms trafficking and later transferred to Nigerian custody. He was released last year as part of an amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants and has a home in South Africa.

In a statement at the weekend MEND said that “Okah has never been involved in any MEND operations”.

The Nigerian intelligence service said authorities were aware of warnings purportedly from MEND a number of days before the blasts and security was tightened.

Authorities have argued that hightened security had kept attacks from occurring at the main venue of the independence celebrations. The bombs went off about a 10-minute walk away.

The attack also came ahead of elections due early next year.

MEND, which claimed to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue, has carried out scores of attacks in the Niger Delta, the country’s main oil-producing region. But an amnesty deal offered by the government last year has greatly reduced the unrest.

The group, which has been seen as an umbrella organisation for criminal gangs and which police have called “amorphous”, had never before struck in the capital and rarely caused such a high number of casualties.

Key MEND commanders have accepted the amnesty, but some fighters refused to lay down arms, saying the deal was a “charade” which failed to address the key issues of under-development and injustice in the delta. — AFP

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Ola Awoniyi
Ola Awoniyi
Journalist at AFP.

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