Arms imported for 2011 elections, Importers hiding in Iranian embassy, FG summons Ambassador

Men of the State Secret Service, SSS, offloading crates of rocket intercepted at the Apapa Wharf in Lagos. Photo: Nwankpa Chijioke

ABUJA — THE Nigerian government yesterday fingered its Iranian counterpart as the brains behind last month shipment into Nigeria of 13 containers loaded with weapons such as grenades and rocket which were intercepted at Apapa port by the State Security Service, SSS.

The Associated Press, AP, quoting from what it described as internal documents obtained from diplomatic circles, said Nigerian intelligence officials and diplomats have concluded that the Iranian government was behind a secret shipment of weapons discovered last month in shipping containers.

FG summons Iranian ambassador

The government has, therefore, summoned the Iranian ambassador in Nigeria.
An official at the Foreign Affairs Ministry who refused to be named told Reuters that “the Iranian ambassador has been summoned and he is holding a meeting with the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister. Part of the agenda of the meeting is the issue of the shipment of explosives and the visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki

An official at the Iranian embassy in Abuja confirmed that the Iranian Foreign Minister was in Nigeria but declined to comment further.

Meeting was productive – Ajumogobia

Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said he met his Iranian counterpart in Abuja to discuss the shipment.

“I had a productive meeting with the Iranian foreign minister this evening and he has assured us of his government’s co-operation in our ongoing investigation regarding the arms shipment,” Ajumogobia told Reuters by telephone.

A diplomat with access to intelligence on Iran told Reuters in New York that Mottaki had gone to Abuja to discuss the seized arms and to secure permission from the Nigerians to bring two Iranians linked to the shipment back to Tehran.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition that neither his name nor nationality be identified, said the two Iranians were at the Iranian embassy in Abuja and that Tehran appeared reluctant to have them questioned by Nigerian authorities.

According to agency report, immediately after the arms seizure, Israeli officials accused Iran of trying to sneak the shipment into the Gaza Strip, but Nigeria’s security service now believes the arms were imported by some local politicians to destabilise Nigeria if they lose in the coming general elections.

The cargo that was shipped from an Iranian port was listed as building materials but when the 13 containers were opened at Nigeria’s main port in Lagos, inspectors found 107mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and arms.

Contacted by phone, Iranian Ambassador Hussein Abdullahi declined to immediately discuss the allegations, telling AP he was meeting with Nigerian officials about the same issues. Previously, Abdullahi said there is no clear evidence linking his government to the weapons.

Nigerian investigators who followed a paper trail learned that Iran’s foreign ministry endorsed a Nigerian visa application for one of the two Iranians who allegedly shipped the weapons, saying he would work at the Iranian Embassy in Abuja.

The Nigerian government reports, seen by an AP reporter, identify Iranians Azimi Agajany and Sayed Akbar Tahmaesebi as the men who organized the shipment through a Tehran_based company called International Trading and General Construction.

Nigerian officials suspect the two men are currently hiding inside the Iranian Embassy in Abuja.
According to the reports, Agajany received a visa to travel to Nigeria after getting an endorsement from Sheikh Ali Abbas Othman, also known as Abbas Jega, a Nigerian who worked for Radio Tehran’s Hausa language service and studied in Iran. Jega has been arrested by the State Security Service, SSS, a Nigerian government official told the AP.

Tahmaesebi received his visa after Nigerian authorities received a letter of recommendation from Iran’s foreign ministry that said he would “provide administrative support” at its Abuja embassy, the reports say. The two Iranians remain at large.
Importers hiding in Iranian embassy

“We strongly believe they are hiding in the embassy but we cannot prove it,” the Nigerian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the reports. Embassies are considered to be sovereign territory, not subject to searches by the host country.

Displaying a lack of knowledge about Nigeria’s geography, Agajany initially wanted the consignments shipped to Abuja, the documents said. When Agajany was told there is no port in Abuja, which lies hundreds of kilometers from the coast, he came up with Lagos as the destination.

CMA CGM, an international cargo shipper based in France, has said one of its cargo ships picked up the shipping containers from Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran. The company said the shipment, which stopped in Mumbai’s port before heading to Lagos, had been labeled as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone.”

The containers sat at Lagos’ busy Apapa port from July until October 26, when Nigerian security agents carried out a raid and discovered the weapons inside.

Newsmen who went to the port after the raid saw 107mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and other items labelled in English. The rockets can accurately hit targets more than five miles (8.5 kilometres) away with a 40_foot (12_metre) killing radius.

Insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq have used similar rockets against U.S. troops. China, the United States, and Russia manufacture versions of the rocket, as does Iran.

Immediately after the arms seizure, Israeli officials accused Iran of trying to sneak the shipment into the Hamas_controlled Gaza Strip. Nigerian officials instead believe the weapons were to remain in Nigeria where presidential elections that could be intensely contested are scheduled to be held early next year.

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