• UK issues fresh alert, IG releases emergency phone numbers, calls for vigilance
• FCTA demolishes shanties, Jabi shopping mall shut, other facilities tighten security
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.
Our 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.’’
Our 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.”