LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria has reported the seizure of an illegal arms shipment from Iran intercepted by its secret service in Lagos last month to the U.N. Security Council, Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said on Monday.
Rockets and other explosives, hidden in containers of building materials shipped to Nigeria from Iran, appear to put Tehran in breach of U.N. sanctions imposed over its refusal to halt a sensitive nuclear program, diplomats have said.
As a U.N. member, Nigeria was obliged to report the matter to the Security Council’s sanctions committee.
“Following preliminary investigations, our permanent mission in New York has reported the seizure and inspection of the arms shipment from Iran in compliance with our reporting obligations under (U.N.) resolution 1929,” Ajumogobia told Reuters.
Mystery surrounds the intended destination of the weapons, but investigations have focused on two Iranians believed to be senior members of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s elite military force, diplomatic and security sources say.
Nigeria’s secret service was able to question one of the men, who had taken refuge in the Iranian embassy in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, after Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki visited the West African country on Thursday.
It has been unable to question a second Iranian in the embassy because he has diplomatic immunity.
The two Iranians were believed to be members of al-Quds, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards which specializes in foreign operations on behalf of Iran, diplomatic sources said.
“FOR SALE LEGITIMATELY”
Mottaki said earlier on Monday that the “misunderstanding” over the seized weapons had been resolved.
“The seized cargo belonged to a private company and it was for sale legitimately to a West African country,” Mottaki told reporters in Tehran, without identifying the country.
“One of the Iranian citizens ... provided all the necessary explanations to Nigerian officials,” he said.
Nigeria’s secret service said on Wednesday it had been monitoring the movement of the illegal cargo before it entered Lagos, one of Africa’s busiest ports, in July and there was no question that Nigeria was the intended destination.
It did not rule out the possibility that Nigeria was a transit point for shipment to another destination.
The French-based shipping group CMA CGM has said the containers were loaded in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and it was the victim of a false cargo declaration.
The goods were originally meant for an address in Abuja, but shipping documents subsequently appeared to re-export them to Gambia, Nigerian authorities said last week.
The weapons shown to journalists in Lagos when the seizure was made included 107mm rockets, used by armies to support infantry units, but also by groups including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
The United States and its allies fear Iran’s nuclear program is a cover to build bombs. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity.
A Security Council resolution bans Iran from “supplying, selling or transferring directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals ... any arms or related material”.
Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri in Tehran, editing by Andrew Dobbie