Abuja: Nigeria on Wednesday busted a terrorist cell backed by "Iranian handlers" with plans to kill a former military ruler and gather intelligence on movements of Americans and Israelis, officials said.
The cell planned to assassinate Nigeria`s former military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida, and a former traditional ruler of Sokoto caliphate, Ibrahim Dasuki but was foiled by the country`s secret police, the State Security Service (SSS).
The secret police paraded before journalists in Abuja, one Abdullahi Mustapha Berende, the group`s head, said to be a leader of a Shi’ite Islamic sect in the north central city of Ilorin who confessed to planning to kill the men and expand a new terrorist network with the aid of a group from Iran.
Berende, who was arrested with three other persons said they were also spying on American, Israeli and some other Western countries` interests in the oil-rich African nation with the aim of attacking their facilities.
He received training in Iran and relocated to Nigeria`s commercial hub of Lagos to expand his terror activities in the southern part of the country which has been free of any attacks.
SSS spokesman, Marilyn Ogar, said their operatives had been on the trail of the suspects for six months.
According to Ogar, "Berende was a local leader of the Shi’ite sect in Ilorin and was observed to have made several suspicious trips to and from Iran where he interacted with some Iranian elements known to operate a high profile international terrorist network."
Berende admitted the allegation before journalists but pleaded for forgiveness and leniency.
Ogar said that in the course of interrogation, Berende confessed that in 2006, he gained admission to study a six-month course in Iran.
He was recruited by elements when he returned to Iran for further studies in 2011 and was subsequently trained in the use of AK-47 assault rifles, pistols, production and detonation of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
His Iranian sponsors asked him to identify and gather intelligence on public places and prominent hotels frequented by Americans and Israelis to facilitate attacks and he was also tasked with selecting targets like Babangida and Dasuki.
Nigeria has over 160 million people and is largely divided into a Christian south and a Muslim north. The Muslims are mainly Sunni, though there is a Shi’ite community as well.
Iran is known to have backed Shi’ite groups in Nigeria in the past.