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Nigerian Court Denies Bail to Hezbollah Suspects

  • Heather Murdock

Military officials stand near ammunitions seized from suspected members of Hezbollah after a raid of a building in Kano, Nigeria, May 30, 2013.

Military officials stand near ammunitions seized from suspected members of Hezbollah after a raid of a building in Kano, Nigeria, May 30, 2013.

Federal High Court in Abuja has refused bail for three Lebanese-Nigerian men accused of stockpiling weapons and plotting terrorist attacks for Hezbollah, and ordered that properties including a popular supermarket and an amusement park in the Nigerian capital remain sealed for investigation.

Judge Adeniyi Ademola Adetokunbo said Mustapha Fawaz, Abdullah Tahini and Talal Roda would remain locked up in "the interest of national security" but promised to begin the trial soon in the interest of protecting their rights. The men have been locked up for nearly two months and recently filed a $19 million unlawful detention suit against the government.

After the ruling, the detainees appeared stoic as they conferred with family members who looked disappointed. All three are long-time residents of Nigeria, Fawaz is the co-owner of Abuja's shuttered Amigos Supermarket and Wonderland Park.

Prosecutor Simon Egede opposed bail on the grounds that the men, arrested in May on charges of directly supporting Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party that has a powerful militia, posed a flight risk.

“We believe that the cases are very serious in nature," said Egede. "We have fears that they can escape, that they can run away because of their dual citizenships."

The prosecution said Tahini was arrested at an airport in May carrying $61,000 in undeclared cash — funds allegedly designated to support Hezbollah — and that he is group’s coordinator in Nigeria.

While Nigerian prosecutors call Hezbollah a terrorist organization, as do the U.S. and Israel, the defense says Hezbollah is not recognized as a terrorist organization in Nigeria or most of the rest of the world.

Defense attorney Ahmed Raji has said he plans to ask the court to drop all the charges based on the fact that Hezbollah membership is not a crime in Nigeria.

The only evidence made public so far is a stash of weapons discovered under a house in the northern city of Kano, which included 21 rocket-propelled grenade, nine pistols and 17 Ak-47 rifles. Many of the weapons, which prosecutors called “enough to sustain a civil war in Nigeria,” appeared to be too old and corroded to use.

Defense attorney Ahmed Raji did not dispute the prosecution’s claim that the weapons posed a serious threat, but that they do not belong to his clients.

"They’re not the owners of the arms and the premises on which they were found belongs to another person entirely," he insisted.

Prosecutors have submitted an affidavit that says they have further evidence to support the charges, including witnesses. The trial is set to begin on July 29.