Osama Bin Laden, late Al-Qaeda Leader
By Paul Ohia in Lagos, Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri and Shola Oyeyipo in Lokoja with agency report
British spy chiefs said at the weekend that they had uncovered a plot by Al-Qaeda to make Nigeria their headquarters from where they could carry out attacks on Europe.
Also, members of the fundamentalist group, Boko Haram, were on the prowl at the weekend as they killed two brothers and another person in Maiduguri, Borno State, during an alleged house-to-house search for non-Muslims.
London-based newspaper, Mirror, reported Sunday that Prime Minister David Cameron had been alerted by the spy chiefs on the determination by the terrorist group to make Nigeria a base for plotting terror attacks on the West.
The report aligned the intention of Al-Qaeda with the attacks by Boko Haram whom they described as “dramatically stepping up their campaign”.
Mirror quoted an unnamed British official as lamenting that “there are dozens of flights every day from Lagos to London. We either help stop the terrorists here, or we will be dealing with them on the streets of Britain.”
However, there are only three direct flights to London everyday – by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Arik Air.
On Christmas Day in 2009, before Boko Haram became very threatening, an alleged young Nigerian Al-Qaeda operative, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to bomb a United States Delta airliner on its way to Detroit but was stopped by the plane occupants.
Last year, Reuters reported that an Al-Qaeda group in North Africa had offered to give Nigerian Muslims training and weapons to fight Christians.
"We are ready to train your people in weapons and give you whatever support we can in men, arms and munitions to enable you to defend our people in Nigeria," the statement by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said, according to the news agency.
It was signed in the name of Abu Mus'ab Abdel-Wadoud, who was described as the "emir" or leader of the group and appeared on Islamic websites that often carry statements from groups using the Al-Qaeda name around the world.
"You are not alone in this test. The hearts of Mujahideen are in pain over your troubles and desire to help you as much as possible in the Islamic Maghreb, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya," it said.
Last Saturday's attacks by the Boko Haram group began at about 11pm and lasted till midnight at the Bulabuli-Ngaranaram area of Maiduguri, the state capital.
Witnesses revealed that the attack was carried out by three unidentified gunmen who scaled the fences of the houses in selective search for non-Muslim residents.
At the end of their attacks, three persons, comprising one Abba Panam, a local mason and two blood brothers - Sani Umar, 35, and Apagu Umar, 30 - were killed at different locations.
During the attacks, an ex-soldier, Pa Joseph, managed to escape with several bullet wounds.
The wife of late Panam, who spoke to journalists on the attack amidst sobbing and wailing, said the three men jumped into their compound around 11pm and asked everyone in the house to come out for checks. They thereafter separated the women from the men and asked her husband to lie down.
According to her: "They asked if my husband will stop being a Christian and become one of them (Muslim) and my husband told them that ‘no, I am already a Christian’. Then they shot him in the head. I came out after they had gone and saw my husband, the father of my nine children, dead with wounds in his head.”
She added that the men that killed her husband were dressed like soldiers, but that their trousers were not all that very long.
In the home of Umar, which was a stone’s throw from Panam’s, the eldest brother of the Panam brothers told THISDAY that he was informed by those in their house that the gunmen attacked at about 11:45pm and left within 10 minutes as his two younger brothers were also killed.
He said: “When they entered the house, they asked for money from the youngest of my brothers, Apagu, who is 30 years old and an oil business man. His wife immediately entered into the house to bring out the money in the house while they held my brothers down at gunpoint. When they got the money, they said that was not only what they came for and then shot both of them in the head.”
He added that apart from the suspicion that they were killed by Boko Haram members, he also suspected that his two brothers’ assailants might be those that owed his junior brother Apagu some huge amount of money from the transactions he had with them in the past.
“My brother had told me that some of his business associates are those suspected to be members of the Boko Haram sect; and since after the attack on them in 2009 most of them ran away without paying him his money. He told me some three months ago that some of them came back and paid him his money while some others refused to. I believe those that killed my brothers did so because of the money they owed,” he said.
Confirming the development, the military Joint Task Force (JTF) said the incident involved an ex-soldier, Joseph. It also said it was shocked because none of their sectors on patrol in the Bulabuli-Ngaranaram area heard any gunshot that led to the killing of the other three.
In another incident, barely an hour after the Caretaker Chairman of Jere Local Government Area, Alhaji Mustapaha Ba’ale, was shot dead in his house in Maiduguri by suspected members of Boko Haram, the group was alleged to have bombed another local drinking joint in the town leaving several persons dead and many injured.
Although the casualty figure could not be ascertained at the time of filing this report, but accounts revealed that many persons were killed in the blast, which occurred right in the middle of the usually congested drinking joint.
One of the witnesses said five persons were already dead and that many others were rushed to the hospital.
Confirming the attack, JTF spokesman, Col. Victor Ebhaleme, told journalists on phone that “we have just got the report; we are on our way there, and we will get back to you”.
A witness, Mallam Abdullahi, who spoke on phone with journalists, said: “The bomb went off right in the middle of the Wulari Mammy market, near one Jummai Watanda shop. It is a popular joint within Wulari market.”
He added that he saw the security people evacuating the victims - some dead and many wounded.
”We saw soldiers open fire on a Volkswagen Golf car that they asked to stop but refused to stop... We really don’t have the full picture of happenings there because the soldiers have cordoned off the whole area,” he said.
Ebhaleme said: “It was gathered that the Boko Haram gunmen now resort to muffling their guns with pillow-foams so that the sound will not be heard by anyone.”
He added that some suspected members of the sect were arrested yesterday morning following a tip-off and they were undergoing interrogation.
In the attack on Ba’ale, it was learnt that he was killed in his house around 4pm.
According to witnesses, the deceased council boss, who was appointed by Governor Kashim Shettima two weeks ago, was attacked in his Madinatu house in Old Maiduguri by unknown gunmen who opened fire on him and left him dead.
JTF officials confirmed the incident to journalists at about 4.35p.m, also yesterday.
The Chief of Staff to Governor Kashim Shettima, Hon. Abubakar Kyari, also confirmed the development on phone.
Although details of the killing remained sketchy, news of the incident went round the state capital and outside that the popular politician who represented Jere State constituency in the last House of Assembly, and contested and lost the House of Representatives election for the same area on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) had been killed by the fundamentalists.
The death of Ba’ale, who was in his early 50s, added to the list of prominent individuals killed by the group including Awana Ali Ngala (ANPP Vice-Chairman, North-east), Modu Fannami Gubio (former ANPP gubernatorial candidate) and Abba Anas El-Kanemi (the brother of Shehu of Borno).
In a related development, detachments of security agencies were at the weekend dispatched to secure the Jamata Bridge on River Niger, along Lokoja-Abuja Road and Itobe Bridge, linking Ajaokuta with the Eastern flank of Kogi State following intelligence reports that Boko Haram was planning to detonate bombs on the bridges linking the West and East to the Northern parts of Nigeria.
While confirming the presence of security agents at the bridges, the Kogi State Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Ajayi Okasanmi, said it was part of proactive arrangement by the command to forestall any form of security breach. He assured citizens that Kogi State was not under any security threat.
“Security in Kogi is not under any threat. The security presence you noticed is part of proactive arrangement by the command to forestall any security breach,” he said.
However, a highly placed security officer, who confided in journalists, revealed that all security formations had been put on alert so as to prevent the state from attack and prevent the Boko Haram from settling down there.
According to him, following the clampdown on the Boko Haram up North, members of the sect were believed to be planning to infiltrate Kogi, Nassarawa and Niger States.