By Ola Awoniyi (AFP)
ABUJA — Nigerian militant group MEND on Friday warned of an “imminent” attack in the country’s capital, after having claimed responsibility for twin car bombings on independence day two weeks ago.
The threat came in a statement that criticised the government’s response to the previous blasts, claiming opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan have been falsely implicated ahead of elections early next year.
“We have decided to carry out another attack in Abuja without altering our mode of operation to (prove) the suspects’ innocence,” the MEND statement said.
“As usual we will give a 30-minutes advance warning to avoid civilian casualties, then sit back and watch how the blame game will be played out on all those already falsely accused.”
The statement from MEND — the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta — was titled “imminent bomb attack in Abuja.”
Referring to the previous bombings, it claimed the government “responded by arresting innocent persons on trumped-up charges, linking them with the attack.”
It came from the same email address and was signed with the same name — Jomo Gbomo, believed to be an alias — as a statement warning of the October 1 bombings about an hour before they went off.
Another statement signed with the same name and from the same address later took responsibility for the bombings which killed at least 12 people.
The car bombings occurred near celebrations marking 50 years of independence for Nigeria attended by the country’s leaders and foreign delegations.
Increased security tied up traffic in Abuja on Friday with the president’s wife appearing at an event at Eagle Square — the same venue where independence celebrations were held.
Police gave no indication in a statement that the security was in response to a specific threat.
Contacted about the MEND warning, police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu told AFP, “I have not seen the alert myself.”
“We will take measures to make sure it will not happen,” he said. “In Nigeria, we will not operate under a siege mentality.”
MEND, Nigeria’s most prominent militant group, claims to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue in the impoverished Niger Delta, the heart of the country’s oil industry.
After the bombings Ex-MEND leader Henry Okah was arrested in South Africa, where he lives.
Prosecutors said in court in South Africa on Thursday that police believe Okah had a “leading role in the explosions.” They alleged that he was in contact with the authors of the attacks immediately before and after the bombings.
On Friday, Okah denied any links with the nine people arrested in Nigeria in the aftermath of the attacks.
“In an obvious attempt to intimidate anyone opposed to the presidential ambition of Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian government hiding under the cloak of terrorist hunters have been witch-hunting, falsely accusing and harassing its perceived opponents,” MEND’s statement said.
It named Okah and another person detained in connection with the blasts, Raymond Dokpesi, the head of an influential media group in Nigeria, as being falsely implicated.
Dokpesi, who was freed after being questioned, is also campaign manager for ex-military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, who is Jonathan’s main rival for the ruling party’s nomination in elections early next year.
Authorities call MEND an “amorphous” group. It has been seen as an umbrella organisation for local criminal gangs and is believed to have splintered, especially over a government amnesty offered last year.
Thousands of ex-militants signed up to the amnesty, which has been credited with greatly reducing unrest in the Niger Delta.