Nigeria will report Iran to the UN Security Council if it finds any evidence that an illegal arms shipment it seized two weeks ago violated UN sanctions, Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said on Friday.
Ajumogobia met his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki late on Thursday to discuss the shipment, intercepted by Nigeria’s secret service in the port of Lagos and found to contain rockets and other explosives.
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, Reuters reports.
“One of the hiccups in the ongoing investigation was the fact that an Iranian national, who is some way complicit … is in the Iranian Embassy,” Ajumogobia said, adding that Mottaki had since allowed Nigerian security agents to question the man.
But Nigeria has been unable to question a second Iranian in the embassy because he has diplomatic immunity, Ajumogobia said. The two Iranians are believed to be members of al-Quds, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards that specializes in foreign operations on behalf of Iran, diplomatic sources said.
The arms appear to put Iran in breach of UN sanctions imposed over its refusal to halt a sensitive nuclear program, diplomats said. As a UN member, Nigeria would be obliged to report the matter and seize the shipment if that were the case.
A Nigerian diplomat in New York told Reuters that Nigeria would soon inform the UN Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee about the incident.
“We are definitely going to inform the sanctions committee,” he said. “We are working on it. We are obliged to inform the sanctions committee, and we will do it.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States had discussed the matter with Abuja.
“If these reports are true, these are potential violations of Security Council resolutions,” Crowley said. “We will obviously encourage and assist Nigeria in any way that we can with its investigation.”
Ajumogobia told Reuters that Mottaki had promised Iran’s cooperation with an investigation into the shipment and said he did not believe it had broken UN sanctions.
“The Security Council resolution, to which Nigeria was party, was dealing with nuclear materials. There’s no indication that’s implicated here,” Ajumogobia said.
“If Nigeria finds in the conclusion of investigations that there has been a breach of any sanctions, as a member of the UN Council we would do what is necessary,” he said.
Nigeria is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. A 2007 Council resolution states Iran must not “supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals … any arms or related material.”
Pieter Wezeman, a researcher on military issues at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the resolution did not apply just to nuclear material.
“Any weapons, including small arms, including munitions, any arms and related materials … it is all banned,” he said.
FINAL DESTINATION UNKNOWN
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 that there was no question that Nigeria was the intended destination.
French-based shipping group CMA CGM has said the containers were loaded in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and that it was the victim of a false cargo declaration. It has said it is cooperating fully with investigating agencies.
The cargo did not initially arouse suspicion when it arrived in Nigeria because it was part of a larger shipment labeled as building materials and was transferred to a warehouse in Lagos.
The consignee was a Nigerian, also under investigation, and the goods were originally meant for an address in Abuja, Ajumogobia said. But they were intercepted when they were returned to the port in an attempt to re-export them.
“At that point, another set of shipping documents appeared and the individuals who were connected to the shipment suggested these goods were being trans-shipped through Nigeria to a third country, the Gambia,” Ajumogobia said. “That aspect of the investigation has not been concluded.”
The weapons shown to journalists in Lagos when the seizure was made included 107mm rockets, designed to attack static targets and used by armies to support infantry units. Security experts say the heavy rockets have also been used by groups including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.