Last updated: 29 November, 2013

Nigeria court clears suspected Hezbollah members of terror charges

Three Lebanese nationals suspected of being Hezbollah members were cleared of terrorism charges in Nigeria on Friday but one of the accused was convicted of a weapons offence and jailed for life.

Mustapha Fawaz, Abdallah Thahini and Talal Ahmad Roda were arrested in May after the discovery of an arms cache in a residence in the northern Nigerian city of Kano.

They were accused of plotting attacks against Western and Israeli targets in Nigeria but denied the accusations.

Federal High Court Judge Adeniyi Adetokunbo Ademola said Hezbollah “is not an international terrorist organisation in Nigeria” and therefore membership is not criminal.

He said there was “no evidence” that the group was planning an attack or had received “terrorism training” as the prosecution alleged.

Roda, however, was found guilty of conspiracy to import weapons into the country and sentenced to life imprisonment.

All three men were also acquitted of money laundering charges.

The trial featured several unexpected twists, including a testimony from Roda that an extremist cell in Nigeria had plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.

In August, Fawaz testified that he had been harshly interrogated by Israeli security agents after his arrest.

Nigerian intelligence agents escorted journalists to a property in Kano on May 30 and showed them a bunker where a massive haul of weapons had been stored.

The spy chief in Kano, Bassey Etang, described the room as a “Hezbollah armoury” — a statement that raised eyebrows among some analysts.

The court verdict is a fresh blow to Nigeria’s main intelligence branch, the Department of State Services, which in September claimed that Boko Haram Islamists attacked troops outside a government building in the capital Abuja.

Subsequent evidence, however, suggested the clash involved security officers and a group of squatters.