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More trouble for Okah in South Africa

Terror suspect, Henry Okah, who is facing trial in South Africa for allegedly masterminding the Independence Day bomb blasts is to remain in security custody after he was denied bail yesterday by a magistrate court.

Besides, he is to be put on trial next year for alleged terrorism.

Henry Okah being taken to the court

Magistrate Hein Louw said the decision was based on his finding that Okah is the leader of the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that claimed responsibility for the October 1 attacks in Abuja.

Okah has denied being the leader of MEND and said he had no involvement in the twin car bombings, but Louw said prosecutors had argued convincingly that the 45-year-old marine engineer is MEND’s leader.

“The application for bail is denied,” Louw said.

“I make the finding that he is indeed the leader of MEND.”

Okah, who appeared in court dressed in a button-down shirt and jeans, is charged with two counts of violating South Africa’s anti-terrorism act.

The magistrate cited evidence seized from Okah’s house, reading aloud a quotation for weapons from a Chinese arms dealer that included anti-tank mines, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and guns.

He said the most “damning evidence” was a letter introduced by prosecutors in which Okah’s wife called him the leader of MEND.

“They have shown that the accused’s own wife referred to him as the leader of MEND,” he said.

Louw set a trial date of February 11.

Okah’s lawyer, Rudi Krause, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decision and said his client will appeal.

Okah, who has permanent residence in South Africa, was arrested at his home in Johannesburg on October 2, the day after the Abuja blasts.

Prosecutors say Okah exchanged text messages, emails and phone calls with people the Nigerian authorities believe carried out the bombings, and that he gave orders to buy the two cars and fill their trunks with dynamite.

Okah’s brother Charles was also arrested last month in Lagos in connection with the independence day bombings.

Nigeria’s State Security Service, SSS, has accused Okah of organising the March bombing at the Vanguard Conference on Niger Delta in Warri that killed at least one person.

MEND, which claims to be fighting for fairer distribution of oil revenue in the region, had warned of a second attack in Abuja, which it said would prove Okah’s innocence.

The group has also warned it is planning fresh raids on oil installations, where it says it plans to kidnap oil workers.

The group had claimed responsibility for 14 of the 19 hostages freed this week in a Nigerian military operation.

Okah, who was arrested in Angola three years ago and transferred to Nigerian custody, has been living in South Africa since being released as part of a government amnesty offered last year to militants in the Delta.

The amnesty greatly reduced unrest in the Niger Delta, the heart of one of the world’s largest oil industries, but several incidents have occurred in recent months ahead of elections early next year.

THE MAN OKAH

Henry Okah, denied bail Friday over accusations he masterminded independence day twin car bombings, was a marine engineer who became the alleged leader of Nigeria’s most notorious militant group.

Okah, 45, was arrested in South Africa, where he lives, a day after the October 1 bombings and has been held in custody ever since.

It was by no means his first time in a jail cell. During a previous incarceration in Nigeria, he complained to his lawyers of attempts by authorities to kill him, alleging poisonous snakes were released into his cell.

Prosecutors say Okah is the leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Nigerian militant organisation that has claimed scores of kidnappings and attacks on oil installations in recent years.

The October 1 bombings in Abuja that killed at least 12 people was the first such attack in the capital.

MEND claims to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue, but it has also been seen as an umbrella organisation for criminal gangs.

The fourth of nine children of a senior navy officer, Okah turned to militant action following the 1995 execution of rights activist Ken Saro_Wiwa, who pushed for justice for the Niger Delta region.


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