Nigerian officials have grown very concerned about Shi’ite Muslim militant groups with links to Iran or Lebanon operating in their country. Three Nigerians were charged with assisting a militant Iranian cell in Nigeria. They were tasked with establishing a cell in the Southwestern part of Nigeria with an emphasis on Lagos.
The Nigerian secret service (SSS) arrested Abdullahi Mustapha Berende, along with his lieutenants, Saheed Oluremi Adewumi, Sulaiman Olayinka Saka, and accused them of being members of a “high-profile terrorist network” that were planning domestic attacks. One of them had allegedly travelled to Tehran and Dubai to receive cash. He was charged with receiving $30,000 in funding from an unnamed Iranian terrorist group in order to carry out operations, including the use of cameras. Mr. Berende is accused of travelling to Iran to help with “material assistance and terrorist training…in the use of fire arms, explosives and other related weapons.” The SSS had been following the group for the previous six months.
According to the SSS, “His Iranian sponsors requested that he identifies and gathers intelligence on public and prominent hotels frequented by Americans and Israelis to facilitate attacks.
Berende also knew about spying on two Israeli targets in the Nigerian city of Lagos. The known targets were the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Centre and AA Consulting (an Israeli company specializing in telecom and IT to local organizations and companies). Other specific targets included USAID, the Peace Corps and Zim shipping company. Iran denied that it had committed any “illegal act” in Nigeria.
Berende admitted to having carried out the acts. In response he said “I regret what happened. It is embarrassing to everyone around me and me. I still plead for forgiveness; the whole nation and my family should forgive me and I really regret my actions. When people who are not known to you display friendship, one should be careful because you may not know the person’s motives. There are people out there hunting for people to exploit and use to achieve their objectives. I regret that despite my academic background, I still fell prey to this kind of thing.”
In 2010, a shipment of artillery rockets, rifle rounds and other weapons from Iran were discovered by authorities at a Lagos port. An Iranian and a Nigerian each received a five year sentence for smuggling the weapons.
An Iranian diplomat was arrested in 2004 on suspicion of spying on the Israeli embassy in Abuja, Nigeria’s capitol.
Additionally, three Lebanese men who are believed to have links to Hezbollah have been in court over an alleged Hezbollah plot since June. One of the defendants, Talal Ahmad Roda, claimed that Abdulhassan Tahir was behind a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Abuja. The three men on trial were accused of plotting attacks against Israeli and Western targets in Nigeria, after a cache of arms were discovered at a business in Abuja, as well as a private home in Kano, a city in Northern Nigeria.
Although the Shi’ite threats seem small compared to those of the Sunni Islamist groups like Al-Qaida or the Nigerian Boko Haram, nevertheless, these recent cases have continued to raise alarm.