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Nigeria trial to expose Iran gunrunning

Iranian minister visits Senegal after weapons row
Dakar (AFP) Jan 18, 2011 - Iran's foreign minister arrived in Senegal Tuesday, officials said, amid a diplomatic storm between the one-time allies over a huge cache of weapons from Iran that was intercepted in Nigeria. Acting Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was due to meet Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade during the two-day trip, an official told AFP. The Iranian ISNA news agency said Monday that the talks would focus on bilateral and international relations.

Senegal and Iran enjoyed strong diplomatic ties until 13 containers loaded with arms and munitions were found in October aboard a ship in Nigeria. Senegal recalled its ambassador to Tehran mid-December after Iran failed to provide a "satisfactory" explanation for the weapons, which were sent from Iran and destined for Gambia. Because of its controversial nuclear programme, Iran is forbidden from selling arms, under United Nations sanctions. Salehi took over as Iran's caretaker foreign minister after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired his predecessor Manouchehr Mottaki on December 13 as he was on an official visit to Senegal.

G.Bissau to boost airstrip surveillance in drugs fight
Bissau (AFP) Jan 18, 2011 - Guinea-Bissau said Tuesday it would boost surveillance of airstrips used by drug traffickers and has threatened to destroy any aircraft flying illegally over the country. The small west African country, six hours by plane from South America, has become a major hub for drug cartels moving cocaine to Europe. A cabinet statement released Tuesday said government planned to make the Cufar airstrip, some 300km (180 miles) south of the capital Bissau, "inoperative" as it was "used for questionable activities."

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, has also instructed the ministers of defence and the interior to "heighten vigilance" on all runways around the country, read the statement. Guinea-Bissau has a total of 24 airfields built during the Portuguese colonial era some of which have in the past been used by South American drug cartels. Army chief General Antonio Indjai has threatened to give the order to shoot down any aircraft flying over the country without permission.

"Shoot them, I will take responsibility afterwards," he told officers at the Buba garrison, 250km south of Bissau. "What do these people want on our territory? As everyone knows Guinea-Bissau has no means, and so we are given a bad name, we are described as a country of drug traffickers. It is over now, shoot any plane that violates our airspace." There have been reports that aircraft have landed in parts of the country with the complicity of military officers. Between 2007 and 2009, over 40 tonnes of cocaine passed through the country, according to a report from United Nations drug office (UNODC).
by Staff Writers
Lagos, Nigeria (UPI) Jan 18, 2011
A trial in Nigeria at the end of the month is expected to expose details of an Iranian arms smuggling operation in Africa run by the Revolutionary Guards' clandestine arm, the al-Quds Force.

An Iranian, Azim Aghajani, identified by Nigerian authorities as a senior officer in the al-Quds Force, faces charges of smuggling 13 shipping containers loaded with weapons and ammunition that were uncovered Oct. 26 at the port of Lagos.

He was charged Nov. 25 along with three Nigerians for importing and attempting to export arms.

A second Iranian sought by the Nigerians, Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, listed as the commander of al-Quds Force operations in Africa, claimed diplomatic immunity when the arms were discovered.

He took refuge in the Nigerian Embassy in Abuja. He was flown to Tehran with Iranian Foreign Minister, Manuchehr Mottaki, who had made an emergency trip to Nigeria in November to soothe the diplomatic standoff triggered by the scandal.

Diplomatic sources in Abuja said Tabatabaei is understood to have been reassigned to Venezuela to oversee al-Quds Force intelligence operations in Latin America.

The Nigerian authorities say the Iranian arms -- 107mm rockets, 60mm, 80mm and 120mm mortars, ammunition for 23mm anti-aircraft guns and small arms ammunition -- were destined for Banjul, capital of the West African state of Gambia.

The arms, concealed in 24 crates in a shipment listed as construction materials, were reportedly uncovered by Nigeria's intelligence service after a tipoff from Israel's Mossad foreign intelligence service.

Indeed, Israel initially claimed the weapons may have been bound for Hamas in Gaza.

The arms had been shipped aboard a French freighter, the MV Everest, owned by the French company CMA CGM, from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf.

The Revolutionary Guards maintain a large base there, which has been used for years to ship arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamists of the Hamas movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

Mottaki's main mission in Nigeria was to persuade the Abuja government not to report Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for violating U.S. sanctions imposed in June 2010, which would have given the United States and its allies a pretext to slap additional sanctions on Iran.

The Nigerians apparently agreed not to press the case with the Security Council -- possibly once they determined the high-powered arms weren't destined for insurgent groups in the country -- but reserved the right to do so later if they saw fit as further investigations were carried out.

The United States has, surprisingly, not made a big issue out of the Nigerian affair, despite its confrontation with Iran over its contentious nuclear program. But that could change.

The Americans, along with the Israelis, have for years been cracking down on Iranian arms shipments to groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. U.S. authorities have targeted Hezbollah networks in West Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

In January 2009, the Israeli air force -- some reports have included the U.S. Air Force as well -- destroyed at least one truck convoy in northern Sudan that was supposedly carrying Iranian arms destined for Gaza.

In that year, at least three shiploads of Iranian arms allegedly bound for Hezbollah were intercepted in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2007, a derailed train in southern Turkey was found to be carrying Iranian arms probably destined for Hezbollah via Syria.

It isn't clear why the Tehran regime was prepared to smuggle arms to the tiny republic of Gambia, although they could have been intended for separatist rebels fighting neighboring Senegal.

But such activities threatened to undercut Tehran's efforts to build up diplomatic, political and economic links in Africa to counter U.S. pressure in the United Nations.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a lengthy tour of Africa in 2010 and staged an Iran-Africa summit in Tehran Sept. 14-15, attended by representatives of 40 countries.

Gambia and Senegal both broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. Nigeria, Africa's most populous state and a key supplier of oil to the United States, is clearly not happy with Tehran and other African states are likely to view Iran with some suspicion now.

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