ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigeria’s federal police force named two men Sunday night as the “masterminds” behind the bombings that struck the West African nation’s capital during its independence celebrations.
Meanwhile, a lawyer in South Africa confirmed that an ex-leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the group that claimed responsibility for the Friday attack, faces a terrorism charge over his alleged involvement in the plot.
Federal police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu in a statement named the two men as Ben Jessy and Chima Orlu. He offered no further details about the two Nigerian men, other than warning the public that harbouring them would be a criminal offence.
“It is clear that the intention of the perpetrators of the evil act was to truncate Nigeria’s celebration of half a century of her political freedom,” the statement read.
“Their motive was to cut short the joy of men and women of goodwill and to pour shame and contempt on our president and indeed the entire nation.”
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, also known by the acronym MEND, issued a warning to journalists about an hour before the attacks Friday, telling people to stay away from festivities at Eagle Square in Abuja. It blamed Nigeria’s government for doing nothing to end the unceasing poverty in the delta as the nation receives billions of dollars from oil revenue.
One car bomb exploded, drawing police, firefighters and the curious to the street near a federal courthouse. Five minutes later, a second car bomb exploded, apparently intended to target those drawn to the scene.
A third, smaller explosion struck inside Eagle Square during the ceremony, apparently injuring one security officer. However, MEND has denied placing any explosives inside the venue.
MEND has destroyed oil pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company workers and fought government troops since 2006.
The attack Friday marked the first time it targeted Nigeria’s capital — and came within a 10-minute walk of where President Goodluck Jonathan and others attended celebrations marking Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.
The police statement said another arrest had already been made by authorities over the bombing. On Sunday, a lawyer for ex-MEND leader Henry Okah confirmed his client had been arrested in Johannesburg.
Ulrich Roux, an attorney with the South African firm representing Okah, said Okah was arrested Saturday. Roux said Okah “claims that he knows nothing of any of these bombings.”
Roux said Okah was arrested and jailed under South African counterterrorism legislation, but has not been charged. Okah is expected be brought to court for a preliminary hearing Monday.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s president has blamed a “small terrorist group that resides outside Nigeria” for the bombings. Jonathan’s assertions, coming in a statement from his office Sunday night, go against MEND’s claim of responsibility.
The statement quoted Jonathan as saying “investigations show that members of MEND have said they know nothing about” claiming responsibility for the attacks. However, it offered no other details.