Aso Rock has reportedly ordered a full investigation into how radical Muslim cleric, Ahmad al-Assir, a wanted terrorist was granted Nigerian Visa in Lebanon to visit the country.
A statement released by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu confirmed the development. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called for a full report on the case and it is investigating it,” Shehu said.
Al-Assir who is also a Chief Imam of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was arrested by Lebanese authorities on August 15 at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport in Lebanon as he attempted to travel to Nigeria through Cairo, Egypt.
The cleric was sentenced to death in absentia by a Lebanese court, after being accused of involvement in the death of 17 Lebanese soldiers. And, in spite of being on the watch-list of Lebanon’s security services since 2013, Al-Assir was detected while holding a fake Palestinian passport with the Nigerian visa.
And following the embarrassment of Al-Assir’s arrest, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate the circumstances surrounding the issuance of Visa to the cleric who has been on the wanted list of several governments.
The Federal Government is said to be disturbed that Al-Assir succeeded in deceiving the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and Embassy officials.
Although the suspect reportedly changed his identity and looks and presented superficial documents for visa, the government decided to probe the incident to ascertain that there was no internal collaboration at its mission.
Some security agencies, including the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), are expected to participate in the investigation to get to the root of the diplomatic challenge and how to avert a re-occurrence.
An official of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign affairs disclosed that the ministry has been directed to solve the riddle on how the wanted terrorist was able to obtain Nigerian Visa. “Those at the nation’s embassy in Lebanon have been queried on how things went wrong. The embassy has been mandated to submit a comprehensive report to the Federal Government within 72 hours,” the unnamed source said.
The report is expected to cover how Al-Assir applied for visa, the documents submitted, what he claimed as his mission to Nigeria, the procedure adopted in verifying his claims; whether or not there was any collaboration with security agencies in Nigeria; and the timeline for the issuance of the visa. “The government is also interested if the ISIS chief was questioned on where he would stay in Nigeria, his host and the duration of his trip,” the source added.
Another source added: “Besides the report, the security agencies will also look into the list of those granted visa in the last few months to ascertain whether ISIS members had covertly applied.
“We are worried because Boko Haram has pledged loyalty to ISIS. And the botched trip of Al-Assir is reawakening because it has confirmed Boko Haram’s claim.”
Meanwhile, the presidency has cautioned against dragging President Buhari into the ISIS leader visa imbroglio, declaring that the Foreign Affairs ministry must be allowed to complete ongoing investigation into the matter.
A statement signed by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu reads in part: “The Buhari administration had nothing to do with the suspect or the supposed visit of the ISIS chief. Without prejudice to the ongoing investigation, it should be noted that Nigerian missions are to serve, they can adjudge an applicant for visa on the basis of documents presented to the Embassy. What is hidden in their heart, you will not know. And for this applicant, we have read report of how he concealed his identity and wore a new look to get the visa. Since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is looking into the matter, let us await the outcome of the investigation.”
By Olisemeka Obeche