Nigerian security forces uncovered an Iranian terror cell that was allegedly planning to launch attacks against Israeli and American targets in the city of Lagos, Nigerian authorities said Wednesday.
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Three members of the cell were arrested by security forces. The leader, Abdullahi Berende, a 50-year-old Shiite Muslim Nigerian citizen, was arrested on December 12, 2012, after six months of surveillance. Two other members - Sulaiman Saka and Saheed Adewumi - were also arrested. The fourth member of the terror cell, Benyamin Yosuf, managed to escape.
The spokeswoman of the Nigerian police said Wednesday that the cell was planning to carry out an attack on the offices of USAID, as well as on the offices of the Israeli container shipping company ZIM, and on the Chabad house in the city of Lagos, which is considered the financial capital of Nigeria.
According to the police spokeswoman, the members of the cell were scouting and collecting information for a future attack. She said that the leader of the cell photographed the Chabad house in Lagos himself and sent the photos to his Iranian handlers.
The investigation by Nigerian security forces revealed that Berende traveled to Iran for the first time in 2006 to study in the university. He returned to Iran in 2011 and underwent training there in assembling explosive devices. Berende received $30 thousand from his Iranian handlers in order to carry out the attacks.
Berende admitted in his interrogation to traveling to Iran on several occasions, in order to meet with Iranians known for their involvement in a worldwide terror network.
The last time he met with his Iranian handlers was in Dubai in April of 2012. In that meeting, he was requested to collect information on ZIM offices and on the Chabad house in Lagos.
The Iranian handlers directed Berende to use code names in all his communications with them. He was requested to use the word "uncle" to denote Israeli targets and the word "aunt" for American ones. He was also directed to establish a small business in Lagos that he would use as a front for the operations.
Berende stated that the Iranians wanted to conduct an attack on Israeli targets in Lagos because they thought that the city was home to an Israeli intelligence base being used to collect information on Iran.
Many Israelis reside in Nigeria, specifically for business. There is substantial economic cooperation between Nigeria and Israel, and the two countries cooperate on intelligence and security matters as well. In October 2010, following intelligence information that Israel and the U.S. passed to Nigeria, authorities there intercepted a large Iranian weapons delivery that was transferred in shipping containers to Lagos. The delivery included rockets, weapons, and ammunition.