LAGOS, Sept 7 – Nigeria released 12 suspects believed linked to Al-Qaeda’s north African branch in 2008 under a “de-radicalization” programme after they were accused of plotting attacks, a leaked US diplomatic cable said Tuesday.
The release of the cable obtained by WikiLeaks came amid mounting concern over whether Nigerian Islamists have formed links with outside extremist groups, particularly following an August 26 attack on UN headquarters.
According to the cable, the security police programme that led to their release was known as “Perception Management.”
“Under this plan, individuals are released from police or (security police) custody and entrusted to ‘sureties’, most of whom are imams or respected traditional leaders in the north,” the cable dated March 20, 2008 said.
Imams asked to serve as sureties argued that “the so-called de-radicalization efforts of the SSS were not only ill-conceived, but also ineffective, counter-productive and unimpressive,” the cable said.
Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) is the country’s dometic intelligence agency.
The cable said that “the release of the 12 individuals suspected of AQIM links and (of) planning terrorist attacks in Nigeria may be connected to overtures made by the SSS to northern traditional and Islamic leaders.”
AQIM is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda’s north African affiliate.
The cable says there was pressure in Nigeria at the time to keep the country from being branded a “terrorist safe haven.”
Nigerian authorities allege that an Al-Qaeda linked suspect who recently returned from Somalia masterminded the attack on UN headquarters in Abuja that killed at least 23, making it one of the bloodiest targeting the world body.
They have also said that two other suspects, identified as key figures of the Boko Haram extremist sect, were arrested on August 21, days before the UN bombing.
The Nigerian Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the UN suicide attack that saw the bomber make his way through two gates before ramming his car into the building.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with 158 million people, divided roughly in half between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.