Nigeria hunts pro-Gaddafi fighters in Katsina, Kano by Niyi Odebode, John Alechenu and Adelani Adepegba
FIGHTERS loyal to ousted Libyan leader, Col. Moammar Gaddafi, may be in Nigeria and the Federal Government is hunting for them, THE PUNCH’s findings have revealed. The Gaddafi men reportedly crossed to the country on Thursday night through the border with Niger Republic. Niger shares a border with Libya.
A source in government who pleaded anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case told THE PUNCH that the Federal Government had ordered the security agencies to fish out the fighters. Government, he added, would also hand over the ex-Libyan leader’s men to the new government in power in Libya if found. Nigeria was one of the earliest countries to recognise Libya’s Transitional National Council.
Spanish-owned Hamada Radio International had reported on Friday that the Libyans, fleeing from the Special Forces unit of the French Foreign Legion and their British counterparts, entered the North and through Niger headed for Katsina State.
Our correspondents learnt that besides the border communities in Katsina, the security forces were beaming their searchlight on Kano, where some of Gaddafi’s men were also believed to be hiding.
A senior security official, who pleaded anonymity on Sunday, told one of our correspondents that security agencies were not entirely surprised by the reported presence of Gaddafi’s men in Nigeria because of the porosity of the country’s borders.
The source said, “You will recall that top security chiefs, including the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, have complained about the porosity of our borders. We are not ruling out the possibility that Gaddafi’s men have strayed into the country.” The source added that the agencies had also enlisted the assistance of community leaders in Katsina, Kano and some other northern states to locate the whereabouts of Gaddafi’s men.
He explained that harbouring Gaddafi’s loyalists would not only be a threat to Nigeria’s security, but jeopardise the country’s relationship with the international community and the rebel leadership in Libya. The TNC and the United States had warned countries against harbouring the embattled Libyan leader and members of his family.
The US had given the warning last week following reports that a long convoy of heavily armed pro-Gaddafi fighters crossed into Niger Republic.
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, had said that the US had specifically told Niger to detain Gaddafi and his loyalists if they sought refuge in the country.
A United Nations resolution prohibits Gaddafi and his family, along with some other regime officials, from travelling outside Libya. Carney had said the UN must be notified immediately if anyone on the travel ban entered another country.
THE PUNCH gathered the report had caused a great deal of disquiet in the country’s intelligence community, which is still grappling with the aftermath of the bombing of the UN building in Abuja. The agencies are also said to be exploring links between the pro-Gaddafi forces and some Nigerians.
The security source, who earlier said Nigeria would not harbour the fleeing Libyans, said, “Nigeria is conscious of the implication of their presence for the security challenge we are facing. We are currently battling with the problem of Boko Haram. They can compound our problem. Therefore, we can’t afford to habour them.”
The Spanish radio which reported the presence of some of Gaddafi’s men in Nigeria had stated that the head of the former Libyan leader’s security service, Gen. Youssef Dbiri, had relatives Northern Nigeria. Dbiri, the report claims, has his maternal roots in Nguru, Yobe State.
The Spanish radio had reported that there were fears that the fleeing Libyan might get support from Southern Niger, in the Maradi-Damagaran area, and the militant Islamic sect in Nigeria, Boko Haram.
The station also reported that more than 200 Nigerians were arrested in Libya by the TNC and that about 20 of them were executed last week for allegedly working for Gaddafi as mercenaries
When contacted, the Nigerian Immigration Service, on Sunday said that the fleeing men would be fished out wherever they might be hiding in the country. The NIS stated that its intelligence and border patrol units would locate the fighters.
The NIS Spokesman, Joachi Olumba, who spoke to one of our correspondents on Sunday, said “Gadaffi and his men will not have a hiding place in Nigeria, we will not allow it.”
Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said if the ousted Libyan dictator, or any of his aides, was found on Nigerian soil, he would be handed over to the relevant authorities at the UN. The ministry’s position was made known by its spokesperson, Mr. Damien Agu, in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Sunday. Agu said Nigeria was a responsible member of the United Nations and had respect for international law.
The International Criminal Court at The Hague had issued a warrant of arrest for Gaddafi, his son, Siaf-al-Islam, and senior members of the regime over alleged crimes against humanity.
Published 9/12/2011 6:15:00 AM