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Suspected al-Qaida Terrorists Face Trial in Nigeria

Five Nigerian suspected terrorists, with alleged links to the al-Qaida terrorist network, have been charged with preparing to attack targets in Africa's most populous country. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports the arrest and prosecution of the Islamist militants for terrorism-related offenses have drawn mixed reactions in Nigeria.

The five men were arrested in northern Nigeria earlier this month. Three of them were said to have traveled to a terrorist camp in Algeria to receive training with intent to cause insurrection in Nigeria.

Nigerian prosecutors said the suspects, all in their 30s, had planned to attack government facilities in three of Nigeria's largest cities. They allegedly planned to use the assault rifles and explosions found in their possession to this end.

Western diplomats have cautioned that Nigeria, which has a large Muslim population, could become a breeding ground for international terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

The U.S. Embassy warned in September that Nigeria was at risk of "a terrorist attack."

Muslim leaders in Nigeria have rebuffed reports that terrorist groups may be gaining a foothold in the predominantly Muslim north.

But Shehu Sani, a researcher who had done extensive studies into religion-inspired violence in northern Nigeria, says there is sufficient evidence to warrant concerns about clandestine groups in northern Nigeria.

"There have been conflicting arguments on whether there are terrorist cells present in Nigeria, specifically the northern part or not," said Sani. "But it is a fact that there are groups and individuals with links to organizations outside this country, who get their training, funding and affiliation without the knowledge of the authorities."

The southern part of Nigeria is a battleground of homegrown militants. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, one of Nigeria's high-profile armed groups, has been blamed for most of the recent violence in the troubled oil-rich southern region.

But Nigeria has never suffered a terrorist attack from a group affiliated with an outside terrorist network like al-Qaida.

The country's security forces have yet to produce substantive evidence of an active al-Qaida network in the country.