Con Coughlin In The Telegraph, 13 Jan 2011:
Iran arms smuggling details to be disclosed
A trial due to open in Nigeria at the end of the month is set to disclose embarrassing details of an extensive arms smuggling operation run by Iran's Revolutionary Guards to supply guerrillas in West Africa.
"This was a sophisticated operation undertaken by Iran's Revolutionary Guards to destabilise a number of governments in West Africa," said a Western security official who has been closely involved in the case. "It is a major diplomatic embarrassment for Tehran at a time when Iran claims it seeks to improve relations with countries in the region."
Two Iranian citizens claiming to be businessmen sought refuge in the Iranian embassy immediately following the seizure of the weapons, sparking a tense diplomatic stand-off between Iran and Nigeria.
Intelligence officials in Nigeria established that the two Iranians were senior officers serving in the Qods Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who were named as Azim Aghajani and Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, who is described as the commander of Qods Force operations in Africa.
Iran made secret representations to the Nigerian government to allow the arms shipment to be returned to Iran, together with the two Revolutionary Guards officers. When the Nigerians refused Manoucher Mottaki, who was then serving as Iran's Foreign Minister, made an emergency visit to Abuja in November during which he persuaded Nigerian officials to release Tabatabaei, who was allowed to fly back to Tehran on the Foreign Minister's private jet. Tabatabaei is now understood to have been redeployed to Venezuela to oversee Iran's intelligence operations in Latin America.
But the Nigerian authorities insisted that Aghajani must remain in Abuja and face trial on arms smuggling charges.
Prosecution officials predict all the details relating to Iran's involvement in the arms shipment will be revealed during the trial of Aghajani, who was earlier this week granted bail by the trial judge until the end of the month.
Nigeria has also demonstrated its displeasure at Iran's attempts to arm anti-government rebel groups by providing the UN committee with responsibility for monitoring sanctions against Iran with full details of the arms shipment. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1747, which was passed in 2007, Iran is banned from the purchase or export of weapons.
An eight-member UN team, including representative from all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, is due to visit Nigeria to investigate the shipment shortly before the trial begins.