Nigeria Nets Bomb Suspects, To Charge Five


Nigeria's secret service said on Tuesday it had caught five suspects believed to have coordinated and carried out car bombings in the capital, as the militant group that claimed responsibility warned of more attacks.

The State Security Service (SSS) said it would charge five people over the October 1 blasts. They included the brother of suspected militant leader Henry Okah, who has been detained in South Africa in connection with the bombings.

The attacks and the subsequent reaction by the authorities have raised tensions in Africa's most populous nation as it prepares for presidential elections next year, set to be the most fiercely contested for more than a decade.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the Abuja blasts, which killed at least 10 people, in a statement emailed to news organisations and signed "Jomo Gbomo", a pseudonym used by its spokespeople.

Henry Okah, whom security sources accuse of providing weapons to MEND and of planning some of its past attacks on oil installations, has denied involvement.

His brother, Charles Okah, was arrested in Nigeria's commercial hub Lagos on Saturday after another warning signed "Jomo Gbomo" was emailed to news organisations stating that a fresh bomb attack was planned for Abuja.

"Charles Tombra Okah, one of the known users of the name 'Jomo Gbomo', and four other suspects will be charged to (in) court," SSS spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said in a statement.

On Tuesday, with both Henry and Charles Okah in detention, a third statement signed "Jomo Gbomo" was sent from the same Yahoo email account, repeating the threat of an attack.

It was the most political yet, warning people to stay away from campaign rallies organised by President Goodluck Jonathan.

"We hereby repeat our warnings to the residents of Abuja, the heart of the country, and to all persons who will be interested in attending the political campaign organised by the president," the statement said.

"This is due to the split he has initiated in our country that had enjoyed a united front politically, and the corruption and split in the Niger Delta community."

ISSUE BECOMING POLITICISEDNigeria is a generally peaceful country of more than 200 ethnic groups but regional rivalries and tribalism bubble under the surface, and the bombings and subsequent response by the authorities have become highly politicised.

In particular, the brief detention of the campaign manager for Jonathan's main election rival, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, has infuriated his opponents.

MEND's claim of responsibility is an embarrassment for Jonathan, the first head of state from the Niger Delta oil region, who brokered an amnesty with militants there last year.He has said the group's name is being used as a cover by criminals, leading opponents to accuse him of bias.

"I have to reiterate that the car bombings have nothing to do with the Niger Delta agitation for better treatment," Jonathan told an economic summit in Abuja on Tuesday.The SSS said the October 1 car bombs had been rigged up in Port Harcourt, the main city in the Niger Delta, before being driven to Abuja and detonated near an Independence Day parade.

The secret service said the four suspects detained along with Charles Okah were: the owner of the Port Harcourt residence where the car bombs were wired up; a person who had coordinated the attacks with Henry Okah; a person who arranged for the vehicles to be driven to Abuja; and a suspect who confirmed the operation had succeeded after the bombs went off.