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In Nigeria, Shia IMN group now classed as terrorists

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Tuesday, 30 July 2019 13:19

A police officer detains a young man after dispersing IMN protesters from a street in Abuja on 23 July. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

An Abuja high court last week approved an application by Nigeria's attorney-general to outlaw the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN).

It comes just days after the latest in a series of deadly clashes between the Shia group and law enforcement left at least 12 of its members dead.

  • A young journalist and a senior policeman were also killed by stray bullets, believed to be from police weapons.
  • The police are also holding dozens of IMN members in its custody after weeks of repeated protests in front of the federal parliament complex and the ministry of foreign affairs.
  • The protests have been on and off since 2015, after a military raid on the headquarters of the IMN in the university town of Zaria, 267km north of Abuja. At least 300 Shia were killed and the movement’s spiritual leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky – who was wounded and lost an eye during the invasion – has been detained ever since. His health is believed to be rapidly deteriorating.
  • Several court orders for his release have been ignored by the presidency and a number of altercations have occurred. In October 2018, soldiers killed scores of IMN members and justified their action by tweeting a video of US President Donald Trump in which he authorised “lethal force” against would-be immigrants at the Mexico border.

Some analysts say the government might be giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Others point to parallels with the extrajudicial killing of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, adding that the proscription and government-sponsored violence could be the beginning of another insurgency:

Good for the goose but not for the gander?

The news comes just as videos of government officials having town hall meetings and negotiations with bandits responsible for cattle rustling and kidnappings in northwest Nigeria have emerged on social media. Murtala Ibin, an Abuja-base security analysit with Goro Initiative, tweeted:

Meanwhile, the Presidency has released a statement clarifying that the action is an outlawing of IMN’s “criminality” and not a restriction of freedom of worship for the larger Shia community.

“The IMN is deliberately changing the narrative in order to gain sympathy & divert the attention of the world from its terrorist activities, including attacking soldiers, killing policemen & a youth corps member, destroying public property, consistently defying State authority,” the statement read.

The IMN, which has never shied away from litigation, is expected to appeal the judgement.

Why this is important: The government now has legal backing and security agencies have been mandated to take “any necessary action” against the IMN, as presidential spokesman Garba Shehu has confirmed, so a cycle of violence may now be on the cards. Radical elements within the IMN – a well-educated group with possible funding from other Shia in the diaspora – could also return fire.


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