JOHANNESBURG – A Nigerian terror suspect linked to the deadly bombings in Nigeria last month must be held without bail, a magistrate in South Africa said Friday.
The decision ended a month of bail hearings that played out like a mini-trial of Henry Okah. Prosecutors, who said they are working closely with Nigerian authorities, presented evidence drawn from Okah's diaries and computer correspondence they said bolstered accusations he was behind bombings in Abuja, Nigeria, during Oct. 1 independence celebrations.
MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, claimed responsibility for the bombings. Magistrate Hein Louw said the "most damning testimony against the accused" was that South African police found a handwritten note by Okah's wife that referred to Okah as the leader of MEND.
Okah insists he is innocent. He has lived in South Africa since last year and was arrested in Johannesburg a day after the bombings.
The magistrate said after listening to tapes of Okah's testimony multiple times, he determined Okah had lied to the court.
"He is indeed a leader of MEND," said magistrate Hein Louw. "His entries in diaries cannot lead the court to any other conclusion than that the accused is involved in military activity within the Niger Delta."
Diary entries included lists of infantry and artillery weapons, which Okah said he wrote for academic reasons. Okah also used the collectives "we" and "us" to refer to fighters in the Niger Delta in diary entries.
Until his arrest, Okah had not recently been seen as a key figure in MEND, the movement that has destroyed oil pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company workers and fought government troops since 2006. The group accuses Nigeria's government of doing nothing to end poverty in the delta even as the nation receives billions of dollars from oil found in the delta region. Nigeria is a major oil supplier to the United States.