Nigeria Says Biafra Activists Are ‘Terrorist’ Group

Nigeria has designated a secessionist movement calling for an independent state of Biafra, a republic that existed in the 1960s and witnessed a deadly civil war, as a terrorist organization.

Nigerian defense spokesman Major General John Enenche said on Friday that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu, had formed a secret militia, used weapons, and extorted money from civilians at illegal road blocks.

“The claim by IPOB actors that the organization is non-violent is not true,” said Enenche in a statement.

Supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra wave the Biafra flag in the Osusu district of Aba in Abia, Nigeria, on May 28. STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty

Nigerian security forces have regularly clashed with IPOB members since Kanu was detained in October 2015. Kanu, a British-Nigerian dual national, was held for almost two years without trial before being released on bail in April. He is facing trial for treason.

IPOB members have accused the military of violently disrupting their demonstrations, while security forces have alleged that the secessionists have used violence.

Related: “There’s no easy way out.” Nigeria’s ex-president Obasanjo tells ‘Newsweek’ of his fears over Biafra

The Nigerian military statement added that IPOB had claimed to have formed a “Biafra National Guard,” illegally blocked public roads, and physically confronted and attacked troops earlier this week in the southeast Abia state.

“The Armed Forces of Nigeria wishes to confirm to the general public that IPOB from all intent, plan and purpose as analyzed, is a militant terrorist organization,” said the statement.

“Therefore parents and particularly unsuspecting residents of the southeast and other Nigerians should advise their wards to desist from joining the group.”

Nnamdi Kanu supporter at a protest in Abuja.

A supporter of pro-Biafra leader Nnamdi Kanu holds a photograph of Kanu at a rally in Abuja, Nigeria on December 1, 2015. Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

Emma Nmezu, an IPOB spokesman based in the U.K., tells Newsweek that the designation is a “salacious fabrication.”

“They have said that to justify the killings of unarmed people,” says Nmezu. “How can a group become terrorists when they don’t have guns, they don’t have ammunition, they’ve never killed a single soul—how could that be, is it justifiable? They are just talking rubbish, absolute nonsense.”

Biafra existed as an independent republic…

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