Europe

Iran and Nigeria Discuss Seized arms shipment to Nigeria

974-Nigeria_Arms_Seizure.sff.embedded.prod_affiliate.81LAGOS, Nigeria (Codewit) — Iran’s foreign minister flew to Nigeria on Thursday to discuss an arms shipment that was seized by Nigerian officials last month and that diplomats have said could put Iran in breach of United Nations sanctions.

The foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, has pledged his government’s cooperation with an investigation into the shipment of weapons, said the Nigerian foreign minister, Odein Ajumogobia. Nigeria’s secret service intercepted the shipment two weeks ago and found that it contained rockets and other explosives. The weapons were in containers that were labeled as construction materials and had been loaded in Iran by a local trader who did not appear on any sanctions list, a shipping group based in France, CMA CGM, has said.

“I had a productive meeting with the Iranian foreign minister this evening, and he has assured us of his government’s cooperation in our ongoing investigation regarding the arms shipment,” Mr. Ajumogobia said in a telephone interview.

Nigerian officials had said earlier that Iran’s ambassador had been summoned to discuss the weapons shipment.

Diplomats in New York said Iran would appear to be in breach of the sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council, which forbids Iran from exporting any weapons directly or indirectly that were originally loaded on its territory. But the diplomats said it was difficult to assess the specifics about the shipment seized in Nigeria, because that country had not yet notified the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee about the seizure.

A diplomat with access to intelligence on Iran said in New York that Mr. Mottaki had gone to Abuja, the Nigerian capital, to discuss the shipment and to secure permission to bring back to Tehran two Iranians connected with the shipment. The diplomat, who spoke anonymously under the rules of diplomacy, said the Iranians were at the Iranian Embassy in Abuja and that Tehran appeared reluctant to have them questioned by the Nigerian authorities.

Nigeria’s secret service said Wednesday that it had been monitoring the movement of the cargo before it entered Lagos in July and that there was no question that Nigeria had been the intended destination.

The weapons, which were shown to journalists in Lagos after the seizure, included 107-millimeter rockets, designed to attack static targets and used by armies to support infantry units. Security experts said the heavy rockets could have been intended for the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli news media reports, citing Israeli defense officials, have suggested that the weapons may have been destined for Hamas and that the Iranians may have been testing a new smuggling route. Israel’s Foreign Ministry has declined to comment.

The seizure heightened concerns about national security in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, months before elections that are expected to be fiercely contested. It also came weeks after car bombs killed at least 10 people near an independence day parade in Abuja on Oct. 1. Militants in the oil-producing Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Niger Delta rebels have been procuring weapons illegally for many years, although they have not been known to use anything as heavy as the arms seized in Lagos.

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