Nigeria’s secret service said on Tuesday it had caught five suspects believed to have coordinated and carried out car bombings in the capital. but the militant group which claimed responsibility warned of more attacks.
The State Security Service (SSS) said it would press charges against five people over the October 1 blasts including the brother of suspected militant leader Henry Okah, on trial in South Africa for conspiracy and terrorism over the bombings.
The attacks and the subsequent reaction by the authorities have raised tensions in Africa’s most populous nation as it prepares for presidential elections next year, set to be the most fiercely contested for more than a decade.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the Abuja blasts, which killed at least 10 people, in a statement emailed to news organisations and signed “Jomo Gbomo”, a pseudonym it has used in the past.
Henry Okah, thought by security sources to have provided weapons to MEND and to have planned some of its attacks in the past, has denied involvement.
His brother, Charles Okah, was arrested in Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos on Saturday after another warning signed Jomo Gbomo was emailed to news organisations stating that a fresh bomb attack was planned for Abuja.
But on Tuesday, with both Henry and Charles Okah in detention, a third statement signed Jomo Gbomo was sent from the same Yahoo! email account, repeating the threat of an attack.
It was the most political yet, warning people to stay away from campaign rallies organised by President Goodluck Jonathan.
“We hereby repeat our warnings to the residents of Abuja, the heart of the country, and to all persons who will be interested in attending the political campaign organised by the president,” the statement said.
“This is due to the split he has initiated in our country that had enjoyed a united front politically, and the corruption and split in the Niger Delta community.”
BOMBING WAS PLANNED IN PORT HARCOURT
The SSS said the October 1 car bombs had been rigged up in Port Harcourt, the main city in the oil producing Niger Delta, before being driven to the capital where they were detonated near an independence day parade.
The secret service said it had identified the owner of the Port Harcourt residence where the vehicles used in the bombings were wired, as well as the person whom it said had co-ordinated the attacks with Henry Okah.
It said it had also identified the person who arranged for the vehicles to be driven to Abuja and the suspect who confirmed the operation had been a success after the blasts.
Nigeria is a generally peaceful country of more than 200 ethnic groups but regional rivalries and tribalism bubble under the surface, and the bombings and subsequent response by the authorities have become highly politicised.
His assertion that MEND’s name was used as a cover by criminals, as well as the brief detention of the campaign manager for his main election rival, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, led opponents to accuse him of partisanship.
“During the course of investigations, several Nigerians were interviewed and released,” Ogar said. “We plead with Nigerians to desist from politicising the issue as such tendencies remain a serious concern to the SSS because they promote insecurity.”