Seized bomb FG demands explanation from Iranian envoy
There were indications on Thursday that the Federal Government had demanded an explanation from the Iranian government on the interception of arms and ammunition at the Apapa Port in Lagos.
The weapons, concealed in 13 containers and labeled as ‘packages of glass wool and pallets of stone,’ arrived at the port in July from Mumbai, India. But on October 26 when the containers were opened by security agents, they revealed weapons comprising rocket launchers and bombs.
CMA CGM, an international cargo shipper based in France, had said the containers were picked from Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran.
The discovery of the weapons raised fears that they were meant to be used by politicians during the 2011 general elections.
The fears were strengthened on Thursday by an Associated Press report which quoted intelligence officials as saying that the arms and ammunition were imported by some politicians.
An intelligence source close to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told THE PUNCH in Abuja that the Federal Government had sought explanation from the Iranian embassy on the weapons shipment.
The source, who declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said, “The government is already in touch with the Iranian government through its ambassador in Nigeria, Hussein Abdullahi.”
“You know that where the shipment emanated from is no longer in dispute. Government is taking up the matter more seriously because they have been reports that two Iranians that facilitated the importation of the containers are hiding in the Iranian embassy.”
Abdullahi seemed to have confirmed the development when he told AP on the telephone on Thursday that he was ‘meeting with Nigerian officials’.
The ambassador had said there was no clear evidence linking Iran to the weapons. But Israeli intelligence officials had claimed that the weapons were headed for the Gaza Strip before they were intercepted.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN), in interview with Channels Television on Thursday, also confirmed that the government was in touch with Iran on the issue.
He added that the government was building the capacity of its security forces to deal with security challenges.
The minister also, at an interactive session with diplomats in Abuja on Thursday, allayed fears over the 2011 general elections as well as the general security situation in the country.
The minister said that the October 1 twin car bomb blasts in Abuja had no political undertone but were an act of terrorism.
“The recent interception of an illegal arms shipment at one of our sea ports illustrates the high level of vigilance and response capability of our security agencies,” Ajumogobia said.
Before the minister spoke, AP said in its report that documents from Nigerian intelligence officials showed that the Iranian government was aware of the shipment of the weapons to Nigeria.
The report added that the officials believed that some Nigerian politicians were behind the importation and had intended to use the arms and ammunition to destabilise the country if the outcome of the elections did not favour them.
It said the Nigerian investigators, who followed a paper trail, learnt that Iran’s foreign ministry endorsed a Nigerian visa application for Sayed Tahmaesebi, one of the two Iranians who allegedly shipped the weapons.
According to the documents, the letter of endorsement from the ministry claimed that Tahmaesebi would work at the Iranian Embassy in Abuja as an ‘administrative support staff.’
The documents sighted by the international news agency added that Tahmaesebi and the second Iranian suspect, Azimi Agajany, organised the shipment of the deadly weapons through a Tehran-based company, International Trading and General Construction.
The intelligence documents claimed that Agajany received a visa to travel to Nigeria after getting an endorsement from a Nigerian Islamic teacher, Sheikh Othman. The Islamic teacher, known as Abbas Jega , worked for Radio Tehran’s Hausa language service and studied in Iran.
He is currently in the custody of the State Security Service for his role in the seized weapons.
The documents added that Agajany initially wanted the weapons shipped to Abuja but when told that there was no port in the city, he came up with Lagos as the destination.