ABUJA, Nigeria – Prosecutors have charged a Nigerian man with receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Al Qaeda and using the funds to send young men off for terrorism training elsewhere in West Africa.
Damagun, 50, of Abuja, is accused of using the funds last year to sponsor a trip for 17 youths from Nigeria's Muslim north to the Arab-dominated nation of Mauritania, where they were to learn terror tactics, the prosecutor said.
Damagun denied the charges, which included accusations he belongs to a banned Islamic group in Nigeria. If convicted, he faces at least 15 years in prison.
He is an executive for a Nigerian media company that publishes a newspaper considered critical of Nigeria's government and ruling party.
Mauritanian government officials were not immediately available for comment.
In 2003, Usama Bin Laden identified Nigeria, with 140 million people largely split between a predominantly Muslim north and a Christian-majority south, as a target for liberation.
Nigeria's federal government is staunchly secular and despite occasional flare-ups of religious and sectarian violence, Muslim and Christian civil servants work together at all levels.
The president is Christian, yet 12 of Nigeria's 36 states adhere to Islamic law, or Shariah, but court-ordered amputations or executions are rarely carried out. Fundamentalism, though, is not unheard of in northern Nigeria.
Nigeria is considered a close ally of the United States, which receives about 12 percent of its crude oil from Nigeria, Africa's largest petroleum producer.