Friday, January 02, 2009

Suspected terrorists arrested?

Recently, the Police, at an unnamed mosque in Kuje, Abuja, nabbed six foreigners suspected to be terrorists and three Nigerians believed to be their collaborators. The Police Commissioner for the Federal Capital Territory, Mr. John Haruna, said, following an unusual mass movement of people out of Abuja, an intelligence report indicated the probable presence of terrorists in the city. Four of the suspects, according to Haruna, carried Zambian passports, while the other two brandished Indian passports.

Haruna said the suspects had been hibernating in one mosque after the other and never slept in any hotel since they arrived in the country on November 25, 2008. The suspects, according to the Police, “never stayed in a particular mosque for more than three days and they are not patronising the normal mosque activities”.

Police suspicion, according to Haruna, was strongly fuelled by a report recently circulated to the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government through the Office of the Inspector General of Police, which revealed that a notorious terrorist gang was moving from Tanzania to other countries in Africa.

The suspects also allegedly confessed that they had been to several countries, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are believed to be “centres for training of terrorists.” The officer said the nation’s embassies in India and Zambia gave them valid visas and that they were cleared by all the security agencies at the airport.

To the relief of many, however, it was later discovered that the suspects were actually members of the Tabligh Group, an Islamic preaching group. After due screening, the preachers were found to be innocent and were therefore released by the State Security Service.

This recent arrest has again fuelled the frightening and persistent rumour of possible terror attack on the country. It has also underscored the need for security agencies to constantly be on the alert.

Between 2006 and 2007, no fewer than five cases of terrorism were prosecuted. In April 2008, a group suspected to be “Nigerian Taliban” attacked a police station in Panshekera, a suburb of Kano. In 2003, Osama bin Ladin named Nigeria as a “fertile ground” for terrorist activities.

In the same year, iJET Intelligent Risk Systems, an international threat and security monitor group listed Nigeria as one of the 10 countries most susceptible to terrorism. Others are Columbia, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Philippines, Russia, Spain, Thailand and Yemen. The group further anchored its suspicion on the fact that “Nigeria is bordered by unstable countries (Chad, and to an extent, Cameroon) and is home to major multinational oil firms, which are attractive targets to terrorists.” It also mentioned the combustible struggle among various ethnic and religious groups to control Nigeria’s oil wealth as another factor.

The 2006 U.S. Department of State Country report on terrorism in Nigeria said there were “some individuals and private groups in Nigeria with ties to probable terrorist elements in Sudan, Iran, Pakistan and Libya”. In its 2007 report, it stated that “the Nigerian Taliban (which has no connection with the Taliban of Afghanistan) has been suspected of having connections to AQIM and Al-Qaeda affiliates since 2005.”

All this has again reinforced the fact that the recent prompt response of the Police may not be preposterous after all. However, all the security agencies need to be more proactive, rather than being reactive, to terror issues. They should build a strong intelligence network that can nip terror attacks in the bud. Public enlightenment campaigns should be embarked upon to educate citizens on the importance of vigilance, especially when they suspect unusual movements.

The security agents should closely monitor the activities of visitors while the nation’s visa policy and issuance process should be thorough and efficient. The security agencies ought to extend their duties beyond protecting only top government officials.

A tight anti-terrorism legal framework should be put in place by the National Assembly. The security agencies and the entire nation should remain vigilant.