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Nigeria Holds Nine Suspects Over Oct. 1 Car Bombings

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Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Nigerian authorities arrested nine people suspected of being linked to two car bombings last week in which at least 12 people died, a security official said.

All of those detained “have direct links with Henry Okah, the incident and some unscrupulous prominent elements in the society,” Marilyn Ogar, spokeswoman for the State Security Service, told reporters in Abuja, the capital, today.

Okah, a leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta rebel group that claimed responsibility for the blasts in Abuja was today charged with two counts of terrorism by a South African court. He was arrested on Oct. 2 in Johannesburg, where he currently lives.

Okah denies he committed any “unlawful acts in South Africa or outside the country,” his lawyer, Piet du Plessis, said yesterday. The names of the other suspects and sponsors of the attack won’t be released because investigations are continuing, Ogar said.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports. Its low-sulfur sweet crude is favored by many U.S. refiners.

MEND wants states in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger River delta region to keep all revenue earned from crude sales and pay only taxes to the federal government. The government in Abuja currently takes 87 percent of the revenue and producing states receive 13 percent.

Oil Production

Attacks by MEND and other armed groups cut more than 28 percent of the country’s oil output between 2006 and 2009, according to Bloomberg data. While the attacks decreased after thousands of fighters accepted a government amnesty last year, MEND refused to disarm, saying its demands were not met.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said his government will crack down on those responsible for the explosions, which he blamed on “a small terrorist group that resides outside” the country and their domestic sponsors.

Okah was arrested in Angola in 2007 and later deported to Nigeria where he faced treason charges. He was freed under a government amnesty last year. Wearing a short-sleeved yellow shirt in court today, Okah smiled and winked at the gallery as he returned to the cells.

Okah’s charge sheet says he “unlawfully and intentionally caused to be delivered, placed, discharged, and/or detonated an explosive device at Abuja, Nigeria, with the purpose of causing death or serious bodily injury.”

South African State Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams didn’t object to a request by defense attorney Rudi Krause to postpone a bail hearing until Oct. 14. Magistrate Hein Louw will tomorrow rule on the postponement after deciding whether to grant Okah the right to remain in a high-risk prison facility in Johannesburg.

The defense argues he would be under threat in a regular prison. Okah’s defense will also file an application to challenge Okah’s arrest as being “unlawful,” Krause said, without giving reasons.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elisha Bala-Gbogbo in Abuja at ebalagbogbo@bloomberg.net; Franz Wild in Johannesburg on fwild@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.