Judges refuse to dismiss Nigerian terror case

MIKE CORDER - Associated Press
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Sunny Ofehe, second right, a Netherlands-based Nigerian activist, is interviewed after appearing in a Rotterdam court for a preliminary hearing Monday Sept. 5, 2011. A Nigerian activist urged judges Monday to dismiss a terrorism case in which prosecutors have charged him with conspiring to attack oil pipelines in Nigeria as well as people smuggling and fraud. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Judges refused on Monday to dismiss a terrorist case against a Nigerian activist charged with conspiring to attack oil pipelines in his homeland as well as people smuggling and fraud.

Sunny Ofehe, a Netherlands-based activist who campaigns to bring peace to the oil-rich Niger Delta, said the charges are based on "premeditation, prejudice and profiling."

However, prosecutor Gert Veurink dismissed Ofehe's claims as "a conspiracy theory" and urged judges at Rotterdam District Court to let the case continue.

Judges refused to throw out the charges and adjourned the case for six weeks. No trial date has been set.

Nigeria, an OPEC member nation, is one of the top crude oil suppliers to the U.S. Its Niger Delta, a region of mangroves and swamps about the size of South Carolina, has seen oil production for more than 50 years, with Royal Dutch Shell the dominant force.

Despite the oil wealth pouring into Nigeria's federal government, villages in the delta remain in abject poverty and pollution from spilled oil has caused tremendous ecological damage.

In 2006, militants began a campaign of kidnappings and pipeline bombings in what they described as a political campaign, though some attacks seemed carried out by criminal gangs.

A government-sponsored amnesty program in 2009 led to a sharp reduction in attacks, but many in the region have become disillusioned by a lack of jobs. Meanwhile, oil thieves continue to drill into pipelines to siphon crude for makeshift refineries that dot the region.

Ofehe said the terror charge of conspiring to bomb an oil pipeline is based on three tapped phone calls to a contact in Nigeria. His lawyer, Ed Manders, told the court Ofehe spoke to the man because he wanted to film a pipeline attack to help raise awareness of such attacks.

"He wants to show the world the abuses in the Niger Delta," Manders said.

Manders called the charge "character assassination" that could lead to Ofehe being kicked out of the Netherlands as an undesirable alien.

Judges also rejected Manders' argument that the case should be tossed out because prosecutors have so far refused to hand over the results of their initial investigation into Ofehe. Manders told judges the refusal to turn over evidence amounted to an abuse of process.

The first probe led to charges of involvement in people smuggling and fraud. Ofehe insists he is innocent of all the charges.