A Nigerian court dropped charges against four Lebanese men allegedly linked to the Shiite group Hezbollah because it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the matter, their defense lawyer Ahmed Raji said.
The men, who are still detained, were arrested in connection with a cache of weapons found in the northern city of Kano that police said on May 30 was meant for attacks on Israeli and Western interests in Nigeria. They were charged on June 5 in a magistrate court in the capital, Abuja, with possessing weapons that would be used for terrorist activities, said Raji.
There are “no charges against them” as of today, Raji told reporters after the court hearing. It’s up to the Department of State Services to file charges at the appropriate court or allow the suspects to be freed, he said.
The four men have filed a separate lawsuit demanding their release and 1 billion naira ($6.2 million) in damages each “because they have been detained in excess of the number of days permitted by the law,” Raji said. Suspects should be charged in the appropriate court within 48 hours or a reasonable period, he said.
Clifford Osagie, a lawyer for the Department of State Services, declined to speak to reporters.
Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer and most populous country of more than 160 million people, is fighting an insurgency by Boko Haram, a Sunni Islamist group seeking to establish Shariah rule in Nigeria. Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group, is backed by Iran and has fought with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against predominantly Sunni Muslim rebels in Syria.
Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel.
Raji said that weapons seized in northern Kano were found in a house that is not related to any of suspects.
“No weapon was discovered with any of them,” he said. “It was a neutral house which doesn’t belong to any of them.”
The penalty for possessing weapons to be used for terrorist activities could vary between sentencing to death, imprisonment for two or three years or just caution, he said.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin” in northern Nigeria’s local Hausa language, has carried out gun and bomb attacks across Nigeria’s north and Abuja in which thousands have died since 2009.
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