Okah denies link to Nigeria bombs

2010-10-03 21:03

Johannesburg - A Nigerian militant leader detained in South Africa after car bomb attacks in the Nigerian capital Abuja will appear in court on Monday but has denied any wrongdoing, his lawyer said on Sunday.

Henry Okah, a senior figure in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), was arrested on Saturday, a day after car bombs killed 12 people near a parade marking Nigeria's 50th anniversary of independence.

"He'll appear in a Johannesburg court tomorrow where he'll probably be charged. They have 48 hours to charge him," Okah's lawyer, Piet du Plessis, told Reuters.

"The warrant of arrest alleges that he contravened the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terrorist and Related Activities Act (...) He totally denies any wrongdoing anywhere," du Plessis said.

A MEND statement signed Jomo Gbomo - the pseudonym used by the group to claim previous attacks on Nigeria's oil industry - was emailed to the media, warning the area should be evacuated an hour before the Abuja bombs went off.

In a second statement on Saturday, the group said it regretted the loss of life but that it had given the security forces five days notice of an attack.

The secret service in Africa's most populous nation said it had received foreign tip-offs and had stepped up security accordingly, including towing 65 vehicles from the streets and cordoning off roads leading to the parade ground.

MEND carried out attacks on oil fields and pipelines in the Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, for years until accepting an amnesty in 2009.

It has said it is fighting for a fairer share of the natural wealth for the vast wetlands region, whose villages remain mired in poverty despite five decades of crude oil extraction.

The Abuja strikes would mark a major change in tactics.

MEND has only twice carried out significant attacks outside the Niger Delta - on an offshore oil platform and at an oil dock in the commercial capital and main port of Lagos.

Its attacks have only rarely killed civilians.