Iran on Friday rejected it had committed any “illegal act” in Nigeria after the West African nation’s secret police arrested three Nigerians accused of spying for the Islamic republic.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted in media reports as saying he “rejected Nigerian and Western media reports of illegal activities by the Islamic republic in Nigeria”.
Amir-Abdollahian said relations between Iran and Nigeria were “developing” and urged officials of the two nations to prevent such accusations from being made.
On Wednesday, the Nigerian secret police paraded a 50-year-old Islamic cleric and two accomplices who they alleged were spying on prominent individuals and targets for Iran.
Abdullahi Mustapha Berende, presented as a leader of the Shiite sect in the central city of Ilorin, was arrested in December “for his active involvement in espionage and terrorist activities,” Nigerian security service spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said.
Investigations revealed that Berende, accused of establishing a “terrorist cell” in Nigeria’s southwest, with a particular emphasis on Lagos, recruited the two other suspects for the task, Ogar said.
Berende underwent his training in Iran and his Iranian sponsors requested him “to identify and gather intelligence on public places and prominent hotels frequented by Americans and Israelis to facilitate attacks,” she said.
He allegedly gave to his Iranian handlers the names of former dictator Ibrahim Babangida, and ex-supreme leader of Muslims in Nigeria, Ibrahim Dasuki, as targets for attacks that could “unsettle the West,” she added.
Berende denied involvement in espionage or terror-related activities but admitted seeking information about some individuals and institutions.
The institutions included USAID and the Jewish Cultural Centre (Chabad) in Lagos, Ogar said, adding the suspects would soon be charged in court.