October 8, 2010 / 1:43 PM / 9 years ago

Nigeria secret service to hold 4 over bomb attacks

* Four suspects to be held for up to two weeks

* Investigation has raised political tensions

By Camillus Eboh

ABUJA, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Nigeria’s secret service will hold four suspects in last week’s car bomb attacks for a further two weeks for questioning, in an investigation which has ratcheted up tensions ahead of presidential elections next year.

The State Security Service (SSS) won a court order allowing it to hold on to the four suspects, whom it did not identify, while it probes the attacks near an independence day parade in the capital Abuja last week, which killed at least 10 people.

“The four suspects should be remanded in the custody of the State Security Service for two weeks for further investigation,” chief magistrate Oyeyeola Oyewumi told a court in Abuja.

The bombs have brought regional rivalries in Africa’s most populous nation to the top of the political agenda ahead of what was already set to be the most fiercely contested presidential race since the end of military rule a decade ago.

President Goodluck Jonathan is fighting for the ruling party nomination but his bid is contentious because of an unwritten agreement that power should rotate between the mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south every two terms.

Jonathan is a southerner who inherited the presidency when northerner Umaru Yar’Adua died in his first term this year. His supporters say he can run as he was elected on a joint ticket with Yar’Adua. His rivals say only a northerner should run.

The Abuja bombs were claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the main rebel group in Jonathan’s southern home region.

MEND’s claim was an embarrassment to Jonathan, who helped broker an amnesty in the oil-producing region last year. He said the blasts had nothing to do with the Niger Delta and MEND’s name had been used as a cover, infuriating northern rivals.

The detention on Monday of Raymond Dokpesi, the campaign manager of his main election rival, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, further raised tensions.

Henry Okah, a senior MEND figure now living in South Africa, was charged there on Monday with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act and the detonation of explosive devices in Abuja. His lawyer has denied his involvement.

The secret service declined to comment on whether the four suspects being held in Nigeria were Okah’s associates.

"Investigations continue. We can't give you their names now because we don't want other suspects who are not in our net to run," an SSS official said, asking not to be named. (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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