The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has denied playing any part in the process that led to an known ISIS leader in Lebanon receiving a visa to visit Nigeria. Rather, it was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which is under the supervision of President Muhammadu Buhari, that issued the visa.
In August, The Trent was the first newspaper in Nigeria to report that a radical Muslim cleric, Ahmad al-Assir had been arrested by Lebanese authorities as he attempted to leave Lebanon to Nigeria via Cairo.
Assir was apprehended while attempting to travel with a fake Palestinian passport and a valid Nigerian visa at the Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport early Saturday, August 15, 2015 in Lebanon. He was travelling with another man who was also with a Nigerian visa.
When The Trent reported the arrest of Al Assir with a Nigerian visa in Lebanon, President Buhari ordered a probe on how Assir obtained a Nigerian visa. “The reported arrest of the wanted terrorist is a huge embarrassment to Nigeria and the President has directed that the matter should be investigated,” the ministry official told Vanguard on condition of anonymity.
Foreign Affairs Ministry Bypasses NIS
The Comptoller-General of the NIS, Martin Abeshi revealed this new and important piece of information to news media in a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday, September 30, 2015. He also revealed that two men connected to Al Assir, whom the fugitive ISIS cleric was visiting in Nigeria have been tracked down and arrested in Kano.
The men, who have not been identified, have been handed over to the National Security Adviser, General Babagana Monguno (Rtd).
“From the record available, the Immigration Service did not issue that visa. It might be the officials of the foreign affairs ministry because they also issue visa on our behalf,” Abeshi revealed.
The Immigration boss also said that the NIS swept into action when the news of the arrest of the ISIS cleric in Lebanon broke and arrested the individuals connected with the fugitive, Assir’s visit to Nigeria.
“When we were told that the person [Al Assir] was heading to Nigeria, the people the man was coming to visit were identified by our men. Our officers in Kano went into action and arrested the two of them immediately and handed them over to the National Security Adviser,” he said.
The status of the probe ordered by President Buhari into this threat to Nigeria’s national security has not been made public.
Two Years A Fugitive
New face of IS linked fugitive cleric, Ahmad al-Assir who was en route Nigeria via Cairo. pic.twitter.com/eT45QGg5es
— Mr. Aye Dee (@MrAyeDee) August 16, 2015
Prior to his arrest, Sheikh Assir has been on the run for two years. He was declared wanted in Lebanon in 2013 when his followers clashed with the Lebanese army killing at least 18 soldiers.
The radical cleric was relatively unknown prior to the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011. But, he quickly gained notoriety as a “a self-proclaimed defender of Sunni rights” due to his fiery anti-Hezbollah rhetoric. Hezbollah is Lebanon’s Shia movement which backs Syria’s President Assad. He had been recruiting his followers to join the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) in Syria fighting against Assad’s government.
Violence broke out in 2013 when one of Assir’s men was caught with unlicensed weapons in his car at a military checkpoint in Sidon, south of Beirut. In reaction, Assir’s followers opened fire on the soldiers manning the checkpoint sparking a two-day battle between his militants and the army.
According to reports, machine guns and rockets were used on the Lebanese troops by Assir’s men in fierce fighting which ended with at least 18 soldiers and 40 militants dead. Heavy weapons and military-style uniforms were discovered in Assir’s compound.
Assir is regarded as media savvy and is known for his publicity stunts.
Implications For Nigeria’s President Buhari
Alexander Mukhtar Dan’Iyan, the editor-in-chief of the 15Past8 Media Group based in New York City, who tweets via @MrAyeDee on Twitter, says that Assir is the ”unofficial de-facto Emir of ISIS in Lebanon”.
Ahmed al-Assir is the unofficial defacto IS Emir for Lebanon. Only reason he's unofficial is because Bay'ah has not been publicly accepted.
— Mr. Aye Dee (@MrAyeDee) August 16, 2015
The Trent raised serious questions for the Nigerian government because of the twin issues of Assir’s fugitive status and his links with ISIS.
How would a radical Muslim cleric, a fugitive linked to ISIS be granted a Nigerian visa on a fake Palestinian passport? What was Assir’s mission in Nigeria? Who are his contacts in Nigeria? Who was he communicating with in Nigeria? Where was he planning to stay in Nigeria? Most importantly, who granted his visa and based on what recommendations?
The incursion of ISIS into a Boko Haram ravaged Nigeria gives Nigerian authorities more cause to worry as Boko Haram attacks continue to increase since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015.
In March 2015, Richard Grenell, a former spokesman for four United States Ambassadors to the United Nations, raised an alarm about the dangers of a Buhari presidency for Nigeria and the whole of Africa.
In an article titled “Nigeria on the brink” which was published in the Washington Times, a US based publication, Grenell observed that the former military Head of State was working tirelessly to introduce the Sharia law across the country, which according to him would further pose a major challenge to the fight against terrorism in Nigeria and Africa in it’s entirety.
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According to Grenell, “Western foreign policy observers pre-occupied with the rise of ISIS in the Middle East should wake up to the reality unfolding in Nigeria. Opposition candidate General Buhari wants Sharia law throughout Nigeria. In fact, he wants it everywhere.
“Is this an indication that Buhari supports violence because the end goal of the terrorist attacks throughout Nigeria and Africa is an Islamic state? It is a legitimate question that should be asked by leaders of the Obama administration.
“Boko Haram has pledged its allegiance and support to ISIS. The Northern Nigerian based Islamic terrorist group wants Sharia law throughout the country and beyond. They are also actively terrorising Chad, Niger and Cameroon with their goal of an Islamic state.
“Buhari has also spoken sympathetically about members of the terrorist group Boko Haram, has cautioned against a rush to judgement on its members and has personally been selected by the terrorist group to lead its negotiations with the Government of Nigeria.
“Buhari’s election as Nigeria’s head of state would be a disaster for Africa. It would also signal trouble for the West’s fight against ISIS and terrorism throughout the Middle East.”
Additional reports by Yemi Adebowale, Breaking Times