(Al-Akhbar): In mid-May, Mustafa Fawwaz, a 49-year-old Lebanese living in northern Nigeria, was headed to the Amigo Mall, a property he co-owns with his brother Fawzi. Hours later, police stormed his supermarket and placed him under arrest.
A few days later, 48-year-old Lebanese Ahmad Tahini was arrested at Nigeria’s Kano International Airport before his flight departed to Beirut. On May 26, the police arrested 51-year-old Talal Rawda at his home, in addition to another Lebanese Hussein Noureddine.
The Nigerian police claimed these four men were part of a “Hezbollah cell,” evidence of which was a weapons depot located inside a house in Kano.
After 40 days of detention, Noureddine was released. The court accused the three remaining Lebanese men of committing “terror-related crimes” and “providing direct assistance to a terrorist group.” The indictment stated: “You confessed that you belong to the armed wing of Hezbollah, which is an international terrorist organization. You have therefore committed a crime.”
The main charge that led to the men’s arrest linked them to a questionable weapons cache. But the weapons found by police were old and rusting, having clearly been stored in inappropriate conditions.
A source close to the defendants said that the house where the weapons were found was originally owned by a former army general who was active in the Nigerian civil war – 40 years ago. He denies that the men are linked in any way to the weapons or any armed activity.
The three Lebanese men have been charged with terrorism by virtue of their membership in Hezbollah even though the Nigerian government does not consider the party a terrorist organization. This is the lawyer’s defense for the upcoming July 8 court date when he’ll ask the court to drop all charges.
As usual, Israel is connected to this debacle. An Israeli security official told a Western newspaper, “The security cell that was arrested is part of a Shia terror campaign targeting the West and Israel.” It is interesting that the Israeli official did not limit his accusations to Hezbollah but rather included the entire Shia sect.
Yet perhaps the strongest evidence of Israeli meddling in the investigation came from a source close to the detainees who claimed that a Mossad team was allowed to interrogate and investigate the defendants.
Israel has always paid special attention to Nigeria, having signed several trade and industrial agreements with the African country. Yet since 2006, visits by Israeli presidents and security officials to Nigeria focused on signing security agreements and finalizing weapons deals. Nigeria specialists say that the Mossad’s close relations with Nigerian security agencies is not concealed in any way.
Israel hopes to accomplish several goals with these accusations. It seeks to pressure international, and especially European, public opinion to list Hezbollah, or at least its so-called armed wing, as a terrorist group. Another aim is to create fissures in Hezbollah by falsely accusing Lebanese businessmen and shutting down their businesses.
The US and Israel have different ways of targeting Lebanese in Africa. While the US treasury department accuses Lebanese of supporting terrorist organizations, Israel colludes with African security agencies to fabricate charges.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.