Hostages latest: US anti-terror squad arrives Nigeria

FOLLOWING last Saturday�s fresh hostage taking by militants in the Niger Delta, intelligence experts from the United States are now in the country to liaise with their Nigerian counterparts on how to arrest the ugly trend.

Diplomatic sources told Sunday Punch on Thursday that the US terrorism experts were drawn from a detachment of an intelligence unit trailing Al-Qaeda operatives in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Sources in the intelligence circle put the number of the American experts involved in the covert operation at six.

However, the sources declined to give the identities of the undercover agents, because of the nature of their assignment, coupled with official policies concerning intelligence service.

It was learnt that the Nigerian authorities sought the foreign support, because of the frightening dimension of the security situation in the area.

According to the sources, the option became imperative following the perceived security lapses that led to the hostage taking and spread of ethno-religious riots in some parts of the country.

�Some US terrorism experts drawn from a unit in Afghanistan hunting Osama bin-Laden are already in the country to assist Nigeria�s effort in containing the escalating situation in the Niger Delta and the spread of religious riots,� the official said.

�The six terrorist experts were briefed by the National Security Adviser and the various intelligence chiefs before they were attached to the various intelligence units on the field.�

The sources alleged that there were strong indications that some external forces were behind the spate of sectarian violence witnessed in some cities in the country in the last one week.

�The feeling now is that some foreign influence may be responsible for the increase in religious resentment against the cartoon riots,� he added.

It will be recalled that the US Embassy in Nigeria had declared shortly after the abduction of the Shell oil workers, that included three Americans, that its government would work with the Nigerian government to free the hostages, just as it ruled out any form of negotiation with the hostage takers.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) had last Saturday abducted nine foreigners working with the Dutch oil giant, Shell, after aerial military bombing of a community in Delta State.

Many people were killed during the air raids that were reportedly recommended by the Nigerian intelligence chiefs as a way of checkmating the militants.

Sources said The Presidency was reportedly shocked to learn that the militants had abducted the oil workers after the government successfully negotiated the release of five oil workers held hostage by members of MEND last January.

According to the sources, President Olusegun Obasanjo did not hide his feeling on the matter when he held a closed-door meeting with the nation�s security chiefs last Monday in Abuja.

The meeting was reportedly attended by the Director-Generals of the State Security Service (SSS); National Intelligence Agency (NIA); the Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA); and the intelligence chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The atmosphere of the meeting was said to have been devoid of the usual conviviality of Obasanjo�s parleys with intelligence chiefs on the security situation in the Niger Delta.

A source in the intelligence community told our correspondent that the authorities had thought that the military option could facilitate the restoration of sanity to the area.

�Obviously, the intelligence estimate of the situation in the Niger Delta left much to be desired. The aerial bombing was part of the show of force so that the militias and their collaborators will know the might of the Federal Government,� the official said.

It was gathered that the intelligence chiefs had also assured the President in their intelligence estimates that the public protests triggered by the controversial cartoon on Prophet Mohammed would not spread to Nigeria. �But they were wrong again, going by the number of cities that have been affected by the riots,� he added.

�So, the President did not mince words in his disapproval of the result of the Intelligence estimates. As a matter of fact, he pointedly said he was going to call on the United States for help if they could not deal with the situation.�

The governor of Bauchi State, Alhaji Adamu Mu�azu, was said to have blamed security lapses for the religious riots that broke out in his domain during the week.

The Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Haz Iwendi, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), exonerated the police hierarchy of any blame in the crisis.

According to him, �I want to comment on the issue you raised as it affects the police. We gave adequate and accurate information report from time to time as regards the various issues. We gave per second information as far as we are concerned.

�You should know that part of the Inspector General of Police�s 10-point-programme include: an effective intelligence-led policing, and we strive to get perfection in that direction.

�As we get this intelligence information, we give them out. There might be human errors, but we ensure that those information are very accurate through constant double checking of whatever information we receive and give out.�

As regards officers of the US intelligence currently assisting the Nigerian government, the police spokesman said he would not comment on it because, �I am not aware of that.�

Efforts to speak with the Director-General, State Security Service (SSS), Col. Kayode Are (rtd), on phone was unsuccessful as the line did not go through.

Sunday Punch learnt that the Director-General was out of Abuja throughout the weekend.

It was gathered that some of the problems had been traced to the door steps of some of the aides who reportedly tampered with some of reports before briefing the President.

Sunday Punch gathered that the US intelligence officers are actually in Nigeria and currently assisting the government.

The Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, however, would not comment on the matter when he was contacted on phone.

�I do not want to comment on such matters. I do not know how you got your report. I also would not know whether you have copies of some of the intelligence reports you are talking about. Just count me out of it; I have no comment to make,� he stated.

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