Nigerian officials have arrested three members of Iranian-backed terrorist cell who were gathering intelligence about potential U.S. and Israeli targets in the country and plotting to murder military and religious leaders. The cell’s 50-year old head Abdullahi Mustaphah Berende, a prominent figure in a local Shiite sect, has already confessed to at least some of the crimes:
The State Security Service (SSS) said they arrested Abdullahi Mustapha Berende and two other Nigerians in December after Berende made several suspicious trips to Iran where he interacted with Iranians in a “high profile terrorist network”… Berende, who will now be charged in court, admitted spying for Iranian counterparts to reporters on Wednesday… [SSS spokeswoman Marilyn] Ogar said Berende sent his Iranian partners photos of the Israeli cultural center in Lagos and told them that they should attack former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida and Islamic spiritual leader the Sultan of Sokoto to “unsettle the West”.
Berende personally took the pictures of the Israeli targets, which were passed along to Tehran. The terror cell also conducted surveillance on American targets, including USAID and U.S. Peace Corps offices. In addition to logistical support, the cell’s Iranian handlers provided some $30,000 in cash to fund planned operations.
Locally, the operation comes after several years which have seen Nigerian officials battling Iranian interference and activities. In 2010, Nigerian port authorities found a hidden shipment of 107 mm artillery rockets, rifle ammunition, and other weapons from Iran in a shipment likely bound for Gambia. A Nigerian and an Iranian with alleged ties to the country’s Revolutionary Guard face criminal charges over the shipment.
Regionally, Iran is in the midst of a “spectacular” campaign that has seen it funneling ammunition and supplies to state and non-state actors across Africa, fueling ethnic conflict and government repression. Tehran also leverages its networks on the continent to smuggle weapons to its Middle East proxies. Its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah has itself been infiltrating Africa for decades, using its presence to funnel money, arms, and drugs globally.
Globally, the surveillance operation in Nigeria tracks closely with activities conducted by alleged Iranian-backed terrorists in Europe. The Burgas, Bulgaria bus bombing and a similar thwarted plot in Cypriot – both conducted in July 2012, both targeting Israeli tourists, and both linked by investigators to Hezbollah and Iran – involved extensive preparatory monitoring of Israeli targets by the accused terrorists.
[Photo: The Israel Project]