Nigerian authorities uncover Iranian 'terror cell' in Lagos

Posted Feb 21, 2013 by JohnThomas Didymus
The Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) said in Abuja Wednesday that it has uncovered a "terror cell" run by Iranians in Lagos. The SSS paraded the leader of an Islamic Shi'ite sect Abdullahi Mustapha Berende, allegedly operating a "cell" in Lagos.
The Nigerian Punch reports that according to the SSS, the group was gathering information about Israelis and Americans living in Lagos apparently as part of a plan to attack them.
State security operatives paraded Berende, 50, and two other persons he allegedly recruited, Sulaiman Saka and Saheed Adewunmi. Nigerian officials said they were looking for a third suspect identified as Bunyamin Yusuf.
The Punch reports that Berende is an Islamic teacher and local leader of the Shi'a Islamic sect in Ilorin, Kwara State. Although Berende denied being part of a "terrorist network," he admitted to journalists that he was employed by "people who were ready to capitalize on my weakness."
The Deputy Director Public Relations of the Nigerian SSS, Marilyn Ogar, told journalists that Berende came under security surveillance after a series of trips to Iran in which he reportedly met with Iranians known to operate "high profile international terrorist network."
Ms. Ogar said that Berende gained admission to study a course in Shi'a Islamic teaching (Da'awa) at the Imam Khomeini University, Iran, in 2006.
According to Ogar, "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."
Ogar said that Berende recruited Saka, Adewunmi and Yusuf as part of his efforts to establish a "cell" in Lagos as instructed by his Iranian handlers. Their job was to gather intelligence about local recreation spots, such as hotels, night clubs and casinos that Americans and Israelis patronize in Lagos.
Ogar said that Berende confessed he photographed the Israeli cultural center in the Ikoyi suburb of Lagos and sent them to his handlers in Iran.
The Punch reports Ogar said: "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 center) because his handlers believed that the Israelis have an intelligence facility there that is used in spying on Iran."
Ogar continued: "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 also reportedly confessed that after he completed his training in Iran, he received $4,000 and €3,500 in April, 2012 at a meeting in Dubai. He also received $20,000, part of which he used to relocate from Ilorin to Lagos.
Berende, who claimed he was a Master's student at the University of Ilorin, said he regretted "betraying my country." He said his handler, whom he identified as "Amir," preyed on his weakness, presumably financial.
The Punch reports he said: "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 capitalize on their weaknesses."
The Islamic teacher denied being part of a "terrorist cell," probably only as a semantic term whose application to his circumstances he could not comprehend. According to him, he only passed information about Americans and Israelis living in Lagos to handlers in Iran.
Reuters reports this is not the first time that a diplomatic incident has occurred between Abuja and Tehran. Nigerian security operatives arrested an Iranian diplomat in 2004 on suspicion that he was spying on the Israeli embassy in Abuja.
The biggest diplomatic row between Abuja and Tehran occurred in 2010, after the Nigerian authorities found a shipment of arms from Iran bound for Gambia. The shipment included rockets, rifle rounds and grenade launchers.
The Punch reports that an Iranian, Azim Aghajani, a Tehran businessman and alleged member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, is being prosecuted for importing arms and ammunition into Nigeria.