Security agencies have begun a manhunt for the financiers of the June 5, 2022 terrorist attack on the Saint Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, in which 40 worshippers were killed and scores injured.
The Federal Government had earlier blamed the attack on the Islamic State West Africa Province terrorists, a claim the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu contested.
But The PUNCH gathered on Wednesday that the security operatives had identified the sponsors and directed all port and border authorities to watch out for them.
A security source told one of our correspondents that no fewer than nine of those involved in the bloody attack were in custody. The source also disclosed that security agencies were launched manhunt for five financiers.
The source said, ‘’The security agencies have nabbed nine persons for direct or indirect involvement in the bloody attack on the Owo Catholic Church. They are now in the process of apprehending the financiers and sponsors of the terror attack. Officers at the nation’s airports and borders have been ordered to watch out for and arrest the culprits who are on the run as they may be desperate to leave the country to evade justice.’’
However, The PUNCH could not independently confirm the claims.
When contacted, the Director, Defence Information, Major General Jimmy Akpor, said he had no information on the fleeing terror financiers or the efforts being made to arrest them.
The Chief of Defence Staff, General Luck Irabor had on Tuesday disclosed that suspected terrorists involved in the Owo attack were arrested in Kogi state on August 1.
Speaking at a parley with editors and media executives at the Defence headquarters, Abuja, Irabor said those in custody include Idris Ojo, an ISWAP commander who escaped from the Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre on July 5; Momoh Abubakar, Aliyu Itopa, Auwal Onimisi, Idris Omeiza and Jimoh Ibrahim.
But Irabor identified Omeiza and Ibrahim as the suspected masterminds of the attack.
However, Akeredolu faulted the CDS over the list of suspects in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Richard Olatunde, on Wednesday.
Akeredolu argued that Ojo was one of the escapees of Kuje Prison and not the Owo massacre perpetrator as claimed by the CDS.
Clarifying the CDS’ statement on the list of suspects, Akpor explained that Irabor disclosed that four terrorists were arrested in Kogi state.
According to him, out of the four suspects, Omeiza was the one linked with the Owo attack.
Akpor made the clarification in a statement on Wednesday, titled, ‘Gen Irabor meets with media executives, reveals arrest of mastermind of Owo Catholic Church attack.’
Irabor meets with media executives, reveals arrest of mastermind of Owo Catholic Church attack.’
He said, “The CDS said that through the collaborative efforts of military and Department of State Services personnel, four terrorists were arrested at Eika, Okehi LGA, Kogi State on 1 August, 2022. Those arrested included Idris Omeiza (a.k.a Bin Malik), Momoh Abubakar, Aliyu Itopa and Auwal Onimisi.
‘’The Defence Chief said preliminary investigation revealed that Idris Omeiza was the mastermind of the terror attack on the Owo Catholic Church as well as the attack on a police station in the Adavi LGA, Kogi State on June 23, 2022, during which a policeman was killed and weapons carted away.”
He also explained that the Kuje prison escapee, Ojo, was planning another attack before his arrest at Ayetoro Osi, Ondo State, through the combined effort of the military and DSS personnel on August 7.
“Idris Ojo, the CDS said, was one of the suspected ISWAP terrorists who escaped from the Kuje Medium Correctional Centre on July 5, 2022. The CDS also mentioned that Ojo was arrested alongside Jimoh Ibrahim (39 years), a sympathizer of the terrorist group, who accommodated him,’’ Akpor further explained.
Meanwhile, Akeredolu, on Monday alleged that there was a terror cell in Okene, a town in Kogi State. He linked the Owo massacre to the Okene terror gang.
Akeredolu, who stated that the gang must be confronted and eliminated, said the terrorists often strike in Kogi, Ekiti and in Ondo.
The governor said this when he appeared on Channels Television’s Politics Today programmed on Monday, during which he clarified a statement of his misconstrued to mean he linked the Ebira tribe to the June 5 attack.
He said, “I don’t want to be emphatic on that point because what I said is being mixed up now. I addressed issues on the terrorists who came to Owo on June 5 and at the same time I went ahead to address kidnap incidents that we have had of recent and I said Ebira people were probably involved in this. I also said we were going to call a meeting with the Ebira community within Ondo State. We have lived together for too long for this sort of incident to happen and that was a separate thing.
“But it is clear, from what we have, that a terror gang in Okene… we all know that Okene is a land of the Ebira. The terror gang in Okene were involved in the incident of June 5. What do we make of that? Are they all Ebira? That is for us to find out.
“We can’t conclude with their names because we can see that a number of them have two names like so, so and so Ibn something. The Department of State Security are still looking at this. So, we must live that until they come out with the proper location of where they come from before we jump into total conclusion.
“For me, I know that there is a terror cell in Okene, and everybody knows that, and they strike across the country. They strike in Kogi, Ekiti and strike in Ondo State. But this terror cell is one that must be confronted and eliminated. What I’m trying to say is that my reference to the Ebira during a courtesy visit by the union of journalists were on incidents that happened recently, and I said no, these were our brothers, we have lived together for long, they cannot get involved in this sort of trade. Let them concentrate on their farming and their trade, rather than getting involved in kidnapping. So, that was a different case.”
In a related development, the Nigerian Air Force said the operations conducted by the air component of ‘Operation Whirl Punch’ in Kaduna state killed many terrorists, including a kingpin identified as Alhaji Shanono.
The operations which were conducted between August 9 also led to the rescue of 26 kidnapped victims.
A statement by the Nigerian Air Force spokesperson, Edward Gabkwet on Wednesday, stated that Shanono was planning a meeting with his soldiers under a tree when the aircraft deployed in the area for a mission sighted