Army major granted bail in Nigeria coup plot trial

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ABUJA, Oct 6 (Reuters) A Nigerian army major accused of trying to overthrow then President Olusegun Obasanjo from prison in 2004 has been granted bail, Nigerian newspapers reported today.

Hamza al-Mustapha has been in jail since 1999 on separate charges of attempting to murder a newspaper publisher. He will remain behind bars because he has not been granted bail in that earlier case, the newspapers said.

As chief security officer to army dictator Sani Abacha during the 1990s, al-Mustapha was a powerful figure in Abacha's regime, one of the most brutal in Nigeria's long history of military rule.

Abacha died mysteriously in 1998 and Africa's most populous country returned to civilian rule the following year. Al-Mustapha was accused of ordering a rocket to be fired at Obasanjo's helicopter in 2004.

The newspapers reported al-Mustapha's lawyer had applied on Friday at a federal court in Lagos for the coup plot charges to be struck out on the grounds that three years into the trial, prosecutors had failed to produce witnesses.

The judge declined to drop the case but granted bail to al-Mustapha and two co-defendants, on condition they produce 24,000 dollars deposits and other guarantees and that they remain in Nigeria.

Al-Mustapha cannot leave jail because of the charge he attempted to murder Alex Ibru, publisher of the Guardian media group, in 1995.

Al-Mustapha was in detention at Kirikiri, a maximum-security jail on the Lagos waterfront, when he was alleged to have financed and organised an attempt to buy a rocket that would be launched at Obasanjo's helicopter. He denies the charges.

Nigeria has experienced six successful military coups since independence from Britain in 1960 and many more failed ones.

Obasanjo emerged as the civilian president after Abacha's unexplained death.

REUTERS SKB KN1637

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