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Nigerian Shiites at odds with government

International | Violent clashes between the religious minority and security forces could worsen
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/30/19, 03:37 pm

ABUJA, Nigeria—The Nigerian government has declared a minority Shiite group in the country a terror organization, but the group’s members said they are being unfairly persecuted for their faith. The disagreement could trigger a new outburst of conflict in the country.

Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) members took to the streets last week to demand the government release their leader, Ibrahim El Zakzaky. Police officers used tear gas and opened fire on the demonstrators, who responded with petrol bombs and set fire to at least two cars. IMN said at least 20 of its members died. Ibrahim Musa, the group’s spokesman, noted that “more might die in police custody, because there are at least 15 people who are in the detention center with various degrees of bullet wounds, without medication.”

The Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, banned IMN and declared the group’s activities were “acts of terrorism.” Mohammed Adamu, the inspector-general of police, also ordered officers to beef up security in all states in light of the protests.

Half of Nigeria’s population is Muslim, and a majority identify as Sunni. The Shiite minority gained ground after the 1979 revolution in Iran, which mostly was led by Shiites. The Nigerian sect maintains strong ties with Iran, considered the international protector of Shiites, but has denied receiving any funding from the country.

Tensions escalated in 2015 when security forces killed hundreds of Shiite Muslims in an attack on IMN headquarters in Kaduna state and arrested Zakzaky, purportedly in response to an assassination attempt on a general. An inquiry by the Kaduna state government concluded the Nigerian military killed and buried 347 members of the group in mass graves. The government refused to obey a 2016 court order for Zakzaky’s release and instead brought more charges against him.

Akinola Olojo, a senior researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, warned the government’s response so far could further escalate the situation. He called on officials to consider the constructive role of mediation and also respect the court order for Zakzaky’s release.

“Clearly, IMN adherents will continue to protest, and there is the likelihood that due to the recent [ban], law enforcement may respond by applying the use of force,” he said. “Hard security responses from the government is misguided and will not resolve the crisis.”

TheCable TheCable Video image of abducted aid workers in Nigeria

Kidnapped Nigerian aid workers appear in video

A Nigerian aid worker abducted this month in the restive northeastern Borno state appeared last week in a proof-of-life video with her five companions. The video, which also includes an unconfirmed claim of kidnapped student Leah Sharibu’s death, comes as Boko Haram’s insurgency reaches its 10-year mark.

Grace Taku, an employee of Action Against Hunger, was traveling with three health workers and three drivers for a program in the town of Damasak when insurgents ambushed their car. One of the drivers died while captors took the rest of them away. In the video, the abductees sit on mats as a United Nations tarp hangs in the background.

Taku, the only woman in the group, said they don’t know where their captors kept them. She said she is the only Christian among the captives and asked officials and the Christian Association of Nigeria to ensure their freedom.

The Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), which broke away from Boko Haram in 2016, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in an unconfirmed report shortly after the video was released.

In the video, Taku also said they didn’t want to be killed like other victims of extremists, Sharibu and Alice Loksha, “because Nigeria couldn’t do anything about them.” She added, “They were not released, they were also killed.”

Boko Haram militants kidnapped Sharibu, 16, from her school in 2018 and kept her in captivity because of her Christian faith. The terror group abducted Alice Loksha, who worked as a nurse at a refugee center, in March of the same year.

Akinola Olojo, the Institute for Security Studies researcher, said terror groups typically release statements when they kill their captives. “No formal statement has been made by ISWAP regarding this, bearing in mind that Leah’s case is a high-profile one,” he said.

ISWAP and Boko Haram continue to carry out sporadic attacks in the region, 10 years after Boko Haram’s insurgency began. On Saturday, suspected Boko Haram extremists killed 60 people during a funeral procession in Borno, the deadliest attack this year. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Rui Vieira Associated Press/Photo by Rui Vieira British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson kicks off prime ministerial duties

Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May last week as Britain’s prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, and he has already shaken the country’s leadership.

Since he assumed power, six ministers from May’s government resigned, and he sacked 11 others. Their replacements include other hardline Brexit supporters such as Liz Truss ad international trade secretary and Priti Patel as home secretary.

May stepped down as leader in June after failing for the third time to receive parliamentary support for her Brexit agreement with the European Union. During the campaign, Johnson insisted he will ensure Britain leaves the EU by the Oct. 31 deadline with or without an agreed-upon transition plan.

During his first speech as prime minister, Johnson rejected the Irish backstop, a last resort for handling the border between Ireland, a member of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. This has been the major sticking point in the exit agreement. Brexit supporters say letting Northern Ireland stay in the EU’s single market to avoid a hard border with Ireland would keep the U.K. tied to the bloc indefinitely without any say in trade decisions.

“For our part we are ready to negotiate in good faith an alternative, with provisions to ensure that the Irish border issues are dealt with where they should always have been: in the negotiations on the future agreement between the U.K. and the EU,” Johnson said.

France retorted that Johnson should avoid “games, gestures, and provocations” as the deadline draws closer. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Hassene Dridi Associated Press/Photo by Hassene Dridi The funeral procession of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi

Tunisia’s first democratic president dies at 92

Thousands of Tunisians and other world leaders bid farewell to Beji Caid Essebsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, during a funeral on Saturday.

Essebsi’s office said he died on Thursday morning at a military hospital in the capital city of Tunis. He was 92. International guests at the funeral ceremony included French President Emmanuel Macron, the emir of Qatar, and the king of Spain.

Essebsi, a former lawyer, won the country’s first democratic presidential election in 2014 following the Arab Spring uprising. Tunisia is the only country to emerge from the revolution with a functioning democracy.

Parliament leader Mohamed Ennaceur will serve as interim president until new elections take place on Sept. 15. Before his death, Essebsi had announced he wouldn’t run in the election originally scheduled for November, saying a younger person should lead the country.

“You will remain at our sides as a symbol and a model,” Ennaceur said, as he pledged to pursue democracy. —O.O.

Facebook Facebook Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre

Cuba frees Christian journalist

Cuban authorities freed Christian journalist Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre on July 19 after keeping him in prison for five days. They had detained him as he left the headquarters of the dissident group Ladies in White, where he was documenting religious freedom violations.

“[The prison experience] has given me the opportunity to know a reality that I had no idea about,” Fernández told Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “Many times I had to stand between the prisoners and police as the guards would often beat the prisoners and I refused to let this happen.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas criticized the detention as the latest example of Cuba’s suppression of dissent. In the first half of 2019, the Cuban Human Rights Observatory recorded 1,468 arbitrary arrests in the country. —Julia A. Seymour

Syria releases U.S. traveler

Syrian authorities released American Sam Goodwin, 30, of St. Louis last week with the help of Lebanese mediators, Reuters reported. No one had heard from him since May 25.

His parents, Thomas and Ann Goodwin, released a statement saying he was “healthy and with his family.” They added, “We are forever indebted to Lebanese General Abbas Ibrahim and to all others who helped secure the release of our son.”

Goodwin quit a job in Singapore in 2018 to accomplish his goal of visiting all 193 countries in the world, according to the BBC. His website, Searching4Sam, indicated he only had 12 left. —J.A.S.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • JimVC
    Posted: Sat, 08/03/2019 05:42 pm

    Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre should be referred to as Fernández (his father's surname) or Fernández Izaguirre, not as Izaguirre (his mother's surname).

  • Web Editor
    Posted: Mon, 08/05/2019 12:30 pm

    Thank you. We have corrected the second reference to his name.