Iranian official in Nigeria after weapons seized

Iran`s foreign minister, who flew to Nigeria amid accusations that his government illegally sent weapons into this country, has authorized local security officials to interview one of the two Iranians implicated in the shipment.

Last Updated: Nov 12, 2010, 16:33 PM IST

Abuja: Iran`s foreign minister, who flew to Nigeria amid accusations that his government illegally sent weapons into this country, has authorized local security officials to interview one of the two Iranians implicated in the shipment, Nigeria`s foreign minister said Friday.

"Following my very productive meeting with the Iranian foreign minister last night, he immediately directed that access be given to our security agencies to interview this individual," Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia told a news conference. He said it`s believed the man, Azimi Agajany, has sought refuge in the Iranian Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria`s capital.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki`s visit late Thursday came after Nigerian authorities concluded Iran`s government was behind the shipment containing artillery rockets and other weapons, according to internal Nigerian government documents seen by The Associated Press. The weapons cache was seized on Oct. 26 in Lagos` huge seaport.

Nigerian intelligence officials and diplomats believe the other Iranian, Sayed Akbar Tahmaesebi, who has been implicated in the case entered this country after Iran`s government said he would be working in its embassy in Abuja. Nigerian officials believe he is also hiding in Iran`s embassy here.

Nigeria`s security service believes the arms were imported by some local politicians to destabilize Nigeria if they lose in the coming general elections that are expected to be hotly contested.

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.

The Nigerian government reports, seen by an AP reporter, identify Agajany and Tahmaesebi as the men who organized the shipment through a Tehran-based company called International Trading and General Construction. The reports say 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 is in the custody of Nigeria`s State Security Service, 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.

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 miles (kilometers) from the coast, he came up with Lagos as the destination.

By shipping arms to the country, Iran may be attempting to "tweak" Western powers by showing it can influence affairs in a country vital to U.S. oil supplies, said David Bender, a Washington-based analyst who studies Iran for the Eurasia Group.
"From their perspective, it doesn`t cost anything," Bender said. "But it gives the impression that they are a global player."

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 labelled as "packages of glass wool and pallets of stone."
AP journalists who went to the port after the raid saw 107mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and other items labeled in English. The rockets can accurately hit targets more than 5 miles (8.5 kilometers) away with a 40-foot (12-meter) 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.

Bureau Report