Nigerian authorities have arrested three Lebanese men in northern Nigeria on suspicion of being members of the Lebanese movement Hezbollah. Soldiers uncovered a hidden arms cache that authorities believe belonged to members of the Shia political party and armed group, the military and secret police said on Thursday.
The three suspects were arrested between May 16 and May 28 in the north' biggest city Kano, said Captain Ikedichi Iweha, the city's military spokesman in a written statement.
All suspects reportedly admitted to being members of Hezbollah under questioning.
A raid on the home of one of the Lebanese had uncovered 60mm anti-tank weapons, four anti-tank landmines, two rounds of ammunition for a 122mm artillery gun, 21 rocket-propelled grenades, seventeen AK-47s with more than 11,000 bullets and some dynamite, Iweha said.
"The arms and ammunition were targeted at facilities of Israel and Western interest in Nigeria," Iweha said, but did not elaborate.
Separately, five fighters from Chad and two from Niger were arrested among fighters fleeing a two-week-old offensive against the Boko Haram armed group in the north-east, as they tried to cross the border into Chad, Nigeria's defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said in a written statement.
Authorities believe there has been a growing involvement of foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda in Nigeria.
The secret service detained the first suspect, Mustapha Fawaz, on May 16 at his supermarket in Kano. His interrogation led to other suspects, including Abdullah Tahini, who was later arrested at Kano airport with $60,000 in undeclared cash.
The third, Talal Roda, a Nigerian and Lebanese citizen, was arrested on Sunday at the house where the weapons were found two days later.
"The search team uncovered an underground bunker in the master bedroom where a large quantity of assorted weapons of different types and calibre were recovered," Iweha said.
"All those arrested have confessed to have undergone Hezbollah terrorist training."
Bassey Etang, the Kano State director of State Security Service, said the discovery of a Hezbollah cell in Nigeria was a very serious matter for the West African nation.
"Even if it is targeted at Israeli and Western interests, we are also aware that where all those people are, Nigerians are also there," Etang said.
Boko Haram probe
The possibility of a link with Nigerian group Boko Haram was being investigated, Iweha said at a news conference.
There has never previously been evidence of an alliance between Salafist Sunni Muslim Boko Haram and Shia Hezbollah.
Most Nigerian Muslims are Sunni, but there are several thousand Shia Nigerians, a legacy of Muslim Ibrahim
Zakzaky's preachings since the 1980s.
Zakzaky still leads Nigeria's main Shia movement, seen as largely peaceful, and has campaigned for a government with stricter adherence to sharia law.
Iweha declined to say if any link to Zakzaky was being investigated.
Nigeria has a large Lebanese community, but this was the first time Nigerian authorities had said that Hezbollah had an operational interest in the country.
Iran, which backs Hezbollah, has recently been implicated in two incidents in Nigeria. An Iranian and his Nigerian accomplice were sentenced to five years in prison this month for trying to smuggle a weapons shipment heading to Gambia.
In February, Nigerian authorities broke up what they described as an Iranian-backed group gathering intelligence about locations.