The leader's "lieutenants successfully conducted surveillance and gathering relevant data...(for) possible attacks," secret police spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said, reading from a statement. "He personally took photographs of the Israeli culture center in Ikoyi, Lagos, which he sent to his handlers."
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The service identified the leader as Abdullahi Mustaphah Berende, a 50 year old leader of a local Shiite sect in Ilorin. Ogar said Berende was arrested along with two other suspected members, while another remains at large.
Berende first traveled to Iran in 2006 and studied at an Islamic university, said Ogar. He later returned in 2011 and learned how to use Kalashnikov assault rifles and pistols, as well as making and detonating homemade explosives, she said.
Ogar identified high-level targets of the group as former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida and Ibrahim Dasuki, a former Sultan of Sokoto, a major Islamic leader in the nation. The group also conducted surveillance on USAID, the US Peace Corps and other targets, she said.
Berende also received some $30,000 in cash to fund the group's planned operations.
Ogar did not take questions, nor did she elaborate on the statement. It remains unclear how close the group was to actually making any attack.
Nigeria, home to more than 160 million people, is largely divided into a Christian south and a Muslim north. Nigeria's Muslims are predominantly Sunni, though there is a Shiite community in the country. Iran has backed Shiite groups in Nigeria in the past.
Iran has previously been involved in police actions in Nigeria. In 2010, authorities at Lagos' Apapa Port found a hidden shipment of 107 mm artillery rockets, rifle rounds and other weapons from Iran. The shipment was supposedly bound for Gambia. A Nigerian and an Iranian with alleged ties to the country's Revolutionary Guard face criminal charges over the shipment.
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