Lawyer: Suspect in Nigeria bombing dies in prison

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2012 12:19 PM
Lawyer: Suspect in Nigeria bombing dies in prison

A suspect held over a 2010 dual car bombing in Nigeria's capital that killed 12 people died in prison despite repeated calls for medical treatment, his lawyer said Sunday, as the militant group he allegedly belonged to blamed his death on his jailers.

Tiemkenfa Francis Osvwo, known as General Gbokos, died Saturday in Nigeria's federal prison in Kuje, just outside the capital, Abuja, lawyer Festus Keyamo said. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the militant group authorities claimed he belonged to, confirmed his death Sunday, but identified him as Francis Osuwo.

The man died after he fell ill following the fumigation of the cell he shared with three other suspects held over the Oct. 1, 2010, car bombing that struck Abuja during Nigeria's 50th independence celebration, Keyamo said. The man also collapsed in court during a Feb. 21 hearing, but received no medical attention from the prison, the lawyer said.

"It was obvious therefore that the authorities wanted him dead," Keyamo said in a statement.

Federal prison spokesman Kayode Odeyemi said Sunday he had no information about the death and said he was out of town and unable to request details from authorities.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the main militant group operating in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta and known by the acronym MEND, issued a statement Sunday to reporters that the man died after being "exposed to toxic fumes" and being neglected by prison officials.

Foreign oil companies have pumped oil out of the delta for more than 50 years. Despite the billions of dollars flowing into Nigeria's government, many in the delta remain desperately poor, living in polluted waters without access to proper medical care, an education or work.

In 2006, militants from groups like MEND started a wave of attacks targeting foreign oil companies, including bombing their pipelines, kidnapping their workers and fighting with security forces. That violence ebbed in 2009 with a government-sponsored amnesty program promising ex-fighters monthly payments and job training. However, few in the delta have seen the promised benefits and scattered kidnappings and attacks continue.

MEND itself, once a powerful, media-friendly militant group in the region, has seen its influence wane since the amnesty. After the 2010 bombings, authorities in South Africa arrested suspected MEND leader and gunrunner Henry Okah on terrorism charges. His trial there is scheduled to begin Oct. 1.

Okah has repeatedly denied being the leader of the militant group, though Nigeria's government has labeled him as a major arms importer to the region. South African prosecutors also have presented evidence in earlier hearings drawn from Okah's diaries and computer correspondence that they said bolstered accusations he masterminded the October bombings.

However, in recent days, MEND has begun issuing statements and claiming responsibility or knowledge of incidents in the delta. MEND claimed a recent attack on an Eni SpA pipeline and the killing of four security agents in Bayelsa state. However, a military spokesman on Sunday blamed the killing of the security agents on "sea pirates" and denied that MEND had any continuing influence in the delta.

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Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.