A joint operation launched by the Department of State Services, the National Intelligence Agency, the police and other security agencies has successfully dismantled a terror cell and arrested five Islamic State West Africa Province commanders and 30 fighters.
The PUNCH gathered that the terror suspects were apprehended at their hideouts in different locations in Abuja, Mararaba and other satellite towns in the Federal Capital Territory. Our correspondent learnt that the suspects were being held at a DSS facility.
The arrests were made amid heightened tension in the nation’s capital as the popular Jabi Lake Mall shut its doors to shoppers and visitors on Thursday, citing the security situation.
To discourage criminal activities, the FCT Administration demolished shanties on Law School land, saying it was part of security measures.
Also, the United Kingdom issued a fresh security alert warning British nationals against visiting Abuja and 14 other states.
This further sparked anxiety among residents as many stayed away from work while vehicular traffic was unusually light.
In addition, the United States Mission and the British High Commission suspended consular services.
But the counter-intelligence operations which netted the suspected militants continued on Thursday with more arrests. It was said to have the backing of the US security and intelligence agencies.
Punch correspondent could, however, not confirm the number of additional suspects that were picked up during the Thursday raid.
It was further learnt that the intelligence agencies had been on the trail of the insurgents before the US and the British High Commission issued security alerts last Sunday, warning their citizens about impending terrorist attacks.
The US Embassy in Abuja had issued an alert for “an elevated risk of terror attacks” in the city, saying that possible targets include government buildings, places of worship and other public places.
In response to this development, the US government authorised the departure of its non-essential employees and their families from Nigeria.
The US State Department in its updated Nigeria travel advisory on Tuesday evening said, “On October 25, 2022, the Department authorised the departure of non-emergency US government employees and family members due to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks.’’
The British High Commission in Nigeria also took a similar step and restricted entry to its premises in an updated terrorism alert.
On Monday, security operatives arrested two terror suspects at Trademore Estate in Lugbe area of Abuja.
Security sources explained that the ISWAP members relocated to the FCT following the heavy bombardment of their enclaves and camps in the North-West by the Nigerian Air Force.
Giving more insight into the ongoing counter-intelligence operations, a security source revealed that the terror suspects were planning a big attack in Abuja before they were nabbed.
The source disclosed that the detained fighters were providing useful information which had led to the arrest of some of their members masquerading as artisans, cart pushers and security guards in the city.
A senior officer stated, ‘’A massive counter-intelligence operation is going on to disrupt, neutralise and destroy the ISWAP terrorists in the FCT. Many commanders and their foot soldiers have been arrested and they are currently helping us in our investigations. About five commanders and 30 fighters have been apprehended but we expect to capture more suspects as we widen our dragnet.’’
The DSS spokesperson, Peter Afunanya said he had not been briefed on the arrest of the terrorists when one of our correspondents contacted him.
The Director, Defence Information, Major Jimmy Akpor did not pick up calls to his line and has yet to respond to a text message sent to him on the matter.
Meanwhile, in another update on Wednesday, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office again restated its warning of an increased threat of terrorist attack in Abuja.
Despite the assurances of the Federal Government that the security agencies had a handle on the security situation, the British Government cautioned its nationals against travel to the FCT and 14 other states in the country.
The travel advice was made available to journalists in Abuja on Thursday, underscoring the gravity of the state of affairs.
The statement was titled, ‘FCDO updates travel advice to British nationals travelling to the Federal Capital Territory, including Abuja.’
It read, ‘’FCDO has updated its travel advice on 26 October to British nationals. The FCDO now advises against all but essential travel to the Federal Capital Territory, including the city of Abuja.
‘’The updated advice outlines that there is an increased threat of terrorist attack in Abuja. British nationals are advised to stay alert, avoid non-essential travel within the city and follow the local news and the advice of security authorities.
“The British High Commission remains open for essential services. The travel advice will constantly be reviewed to make sure it reflects the current situation in Abuja and Nigeria. FCDO travel advice exists to inform British nationals so they can make decisions about travelling abroad.
“Other states in Nigeria where we advise against all but essential travel include Bauchi, Kano, Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto, Kogi, Abia, Plateau, Taraba, within 20km of the border with Niger in Kebbi State and non-riverine areas of Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states.’’
Punch correspondents who went around the FCT on Thursday observed that the traffic on the usually busy roads was light as many routes were deserted.
Areas devoid of the usual traffic gridlock include Wuse, Berger roundabout, Utako and other commercial areas.
At the US Embassy in Area 10, Garki, the environment was tense as security operatives questioned commuters plying the route.
A private security guard told one of our correspondents that the embassy had shut down for now and was not attending to the public.
The mission could not be reached for comments as an inquiry sent to the official email address was not answered but an official who spoke on condition of anonymity said, ‘’We have shut down the Abuja mission for now but those who need our services can go to the consulate in Lagos where normal activities are going on.’’
The same situation was observed at the British High Commission which was guarded by armed policemen.
The PUNCH observed normal activities at the other diplomatic missions, including Ghana, China, Canada, Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire.
Our correspondent equally noticed that many federal workers did not report for duty as checks at the Federal Secretariat indicate that some workers did turn up.
A civil servant who simply identified herself as Maryann justified her absence from the office in a phone interview.
“Who do you want me to believe when the US Embassy said there’s an elevated risk and the FG is saying otherwise? It is not only work that I have been avoiding since the advisory was released, I have also not been to the market and other places as safety precautions,’’ she stated.
A senior official postponed a scheduled media interview with our correspondent, stating that he did not go to the office on account of the security situation in the city.
Arising from the security alert, the Jabi Lake Mall shut its doors to shoppers on Thursday.
In a post on the mall’s Instagram page @jabilakemallnigeria, the management revealed that although it wasn’t its intention to disrupt activities, they had decided for the safety of shoppers and staff of the establishment.
They added that they were reviewing the security situation with relevant authorities and that the mall would be reopened as soon as possible.
The post read, “To all our valued shoppers, Jabi Lake Mall will be closed today, Thursday, 27 October 2022. This decision has been taken in the overall interest of the safety of all staff and customers of the mall.
‘’Centre Management is committed to minimising any disruptions; however, the safety of our staff and shoppers remains our highest priority. Management is constantly reviewing the security situation in consultation with relevant security authorities and will inform you when the mall will be re-opened. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and hope to provide you with a quality shopping experience soon. Thank you.”
Our correspondent observed the presence of operatives of the Nigeria Police Force anti-bomb squad at the plaza.
An anti-bomb police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “We were called upon by the management of Jabi Mall to protect the mall due to the reported imminent terror attack on public places in the FCT.”
IG allays fears
In a statement on Thursday evening, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, urged residents of Abuja to be vigilant.
He also released some telephone numbers, which he advised residents to call in case of an emergency.
He stated this in a statement on Thursday night by Force spokesperson, Olumuyiwa Adejobi.
He said, “He similarly directed that all emergency numbers across the country should be activated to full capacity for a 24/7 prompt response with combatant officers and men on standby to respond in case of emergencies and distress calls.
“Residents within the FCT are urged to remain vigilant and report any suspicious or abnormal occurrence and persons to the Police through the following emergency lines: 08032003913, 08061581938, 07057337653, and 08028940883.
“The IG, therefore, allays the fear of residents in the FCT and admonishes them to go about their lawful businesses and normal social lives/engagements as all hands are on deck to nip any security threat in the bud and respond to distress calls promptly.”
However, the Chief Security Officer of the Silverbird Mall, Emeka Okeke, said the facility would continue to stay open until the management had heard from the DSS or the coordinated security unit of the FCT.
Okeke explained that the staff had security training every Friday to be able to respond to security situations.
He added, “For now, we don’t have a plan of shutting down unless we hear from the DSS and the people in charge of security of the FCT because the mall itself has a burden whenever things like this happen.
‘’They pass messages to us from the military, the DSS but for now, there’s nothing because we’ve beefed up our security in the mall, and for now, people are safe. If they tell us anything further, that’s when we will know whether to shut down the mall or to continue with the operations.’’
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer of Novare Real Estate Property Managers of the Shoprite Malls, Abuja, Ayotunde Adesulu, said the management of the malls was fully aware of the security situation, and was in constant communication with security agencies and had increased the number of security agents in the malls.
“We’ve beefed up the security and gotten extra security for each of our three facilities in Abuja – Wuse, Lugbe and Apo. So, with the information that we’ve gathered, we’ve been able to increase security personnel, and make additional adjustments to our surveillance and security we have on the ground,’’ he disclosed.
Stringent security checks were observed at the Ceddi Plaza as shoppers and visitors were subjected to a body search.
A security expert, Jackson Ojo, said the government was politicising the security situation of the country rather than attending to it, adding that the security agencies should coordinate intelligence units to address the situation.
Sequel to the heightened security alert, the Federal Capital Territory Administration has reclaimed parts of the Nigeria Law School’s land taken over by suspected criminals in Bwari town.
The Senior Special Assistant on Monitoring, Inspection and Enforcement to the FCT Minister, Mr Attah Ikharo, who supervised the exercise, said the shanties on the land were pulled down to restore sanity in the area.
He said the exercise was one of the measures adopted by the Administration to curb insecurity across the territory, adding that it would not be limited to the area alone.
The minister’s aide stated, ‘’The demolition exercise would be a comprehensive one, starting from Bwari Law School, near Kuchiku-Bwari down to Bwari main market. Pulling down the illegal structures here in Bwari is part of our measures to curb insecurity across the territory. This area along the law school stretches down to Bwari market; all the attachments and shanties on the road corridor must go. Some persons in Bwari may see it as a lawless place because, for long, there was no major clean-up.’’
On his part, the Secretary of FCTA Command and Control Centre, Peter Olumuji said the operation is a means of sustaining the security measures already put in place by the police and the FCT Administration.
He explained that before the removal of the shanties, the areas were used as criminals’ hideouts.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Isiaka Amao on Thursday disclosed that the Nigerian Air Force would take delivery of additional fighter helicopters in December 2022 while other new acquisitions would be delivered in 2023.
He said the new fighter helicopters would be in addition to the 38 new aircraft acquired by the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu (retd.), since 2015.