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Analysis: Nigeria sees al-Qaida oil threat

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by Staff Writers
Port Harcourt, Nigeria (UPI) Nov 12, 2007
Nigerian Security officials say they foiled a terrorist plot that included bombing attacks by suspects linked to al-Qaida, officials said Monday.

The undisclosed number of suspects were arrested over the weekend -- following a lengthy investigation, according to the country's State Security Services -- in the northern, predominantly Muslim states of Kaduna, Kano and Yobe.

The SSS said the men were tied to several attacks on police stations and residential neighborhoods in that part of the country. Among the items recovered following the men's arrest were assorted firearms and fertilizer that could be used to makes explosives.

"The successes recorded in the operation that led to the arrest of the suspects were attributed to the recent changes in the State Security Service, especially the reorganization and strengthening of the Anti-Terrorism Department and prioritizing of operational focus," said an SSS official, Nigeria's Leadership newspaper reported Monday.

In addition to alleging the suspects were associated with al-Qaida, security officials also accused the men of being members of the "Nigerian Taliban," a group of Muslim university students that in 2003 was accused of raiding several police stations in northern Nigeria.

The Nigerian Taliban, however, has no ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Over the last several years, there have been widespread allegations that terrorist groups like al-Qaida have been trying to infiltrate Muslim communities in Nigeria, though local authorities have been unable to produce credible evidence supporting the claim.

There are reports certain parts of Nigeria's northern border with Chad are havens for extremist Islamic groups.

"It would be very difficult to prove there are ties to al-Qaida here in Nigeria," said Adam Isa, a leader in the Polo Central Mosque in Port Harcourt, adding that the mosque's imam discourages its members from pursuing ties to Islamic extremists.

Concerns about terror groups infiltrating Nigeria have increased in recent years.

Two months ago, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja warned that Islamic extremist groups could be planning an attack. A similar warning prompted the closure of U.S. diplomatic missions in Abuja and Nigeria's largest city, Lagos.

In 2006, there were rumors circulating that al-Qaida was, in fact, reaching out to the country's militants in the Niger Delta in hopes of waging a terrorist campaign in the region responsible for Nigeria's multibillion dollar oil and gas industry.

Militant groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta have been waging a campaign of attacks on both onshore and offshore oil facilities and pipelines in the proclaimed hope of prompting the corrupt Nigerian government of improving living condition in the delta, where many residents do not have access to clean drinking water or other basic amenities.

During the last year alone, MEND and other groups have been responsible for more than 150 kidnappings in the delta and numerous attacks on oil rigs. On Monday, shots were reportedly fired on an ExxonMobil facility, its main oil terminal in the country, though no one was injured.

The militancy and gang movements are blamed for causing a 20 percent decrease in the country's production levels in the last two years, down from 2.5 million barrels per day.

Despite the unrest in the Niger Delta, militants have denounced claims MEND and others are tied to al-Qaida and global Islamic extremism, noting that southern Nigeria is predominantly Christian.

Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a leader of the militant Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force, dismissed claims that the other groups might be forging ties with al-Qaida.

"Most of the SSS are liars, as is evident with these claims of terror arrest," Asari, himself a Muslim, told United Press International Monday.

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