AFRICANGLOBE – Nigeria could face another terrorist threat posed by the pro-Iranian Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), whose apparently deepening ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah signals further danger for a region that is already unstable.
According to the Combatting Terrorism Centre at Westpoint, the IMN serves as an extension of Iran’s foreign policy in Nigeria.
IMN has reportedly been working with Iran’s Qurds forces and Lebanese Hizbollah to gather intelligence on United States and Western expatriates in Nigeria amid fears the group is plotting violent attacks.
The Shiaa Muslim-dominated IMN upholds the ideologies of Khomeinism, a fiercely pro-Sharia and anti-Western creed, which forms the basis of the enmity that exists between Iran and America and its ally Israel.
The group has fuelled increased extremism among Shia muslims (globally) due to calls by its proponents for ‘Jihad’ against perceived oppressors.
The group commands thousands of ready-made martyrs known as hurras, a uniformed, regimented wing of the IMN modelled after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, according to IMN’s website.
Nigeria is currently battling Boko Haram, a violent Islamic terrorist group that has killed thousands in the crusade against Western education.
Jacob Zenn, a consultant on counter terrorism, said Boko Haram and the IMN shared a common enemy in the opposition to Western domination.
The two groups blame poverty and suffering in Nigeria on Westernisation, and while its clear that Boko Haram wants Sharia law to be introduced across the entire country, the IMN’s objective in this regard remains vague.
A World Bank Country report released in May revealed that 63% of Nigeria’s population live in abject poverty, with the phenomenon more prevalent in the North of the country.
Of the 19 states recognised as being in the North of Nigeria, Sharia law is practiced fully in 9 and partially in 3.
According to intelligence sources, some radicalised members of the IMN, who are typically uneducated, impoverished youths, have joined the battle-ready movements of Boko Haram.
Boko Haram’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf was a follower of IMN’s leader Ibrahim Al-Zakzaky.
In a recent operation, Nigerian security forces intercepted ships smuggling ammunitions and heroine from Iran to IMN operatives in Nigeria.
And in February, officials arrested three members of an Iranian-backed terrorist cell plotting to murder military and religious leaders.
“The State Security Service broke up a terrorist group backed by Iranian handlers who wanted to assassinate a former military ruler and gather intelligence about locations frequented by Americans and Israelis”, Secret Police spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar told reporters in February.
In May, soldiers in northern Nigeria uncovered an arms cache that belonged to members of the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah.
There are suspicions that the IMN like Boko Haram, obtains arms illegally from foreign sources in the Middle East.
Experts say as Nigeria searches for the illusive Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, it should also keep an eye on on Al-Zakzaky.
Al-Zakzaky, was leader of the Nigeria’s Muslim Brotherhood and an advocate of Islam as an alternative to capitalism and socialism.
Adopting the ideologies of Iran’s Ayatolla Khomeini, Egypt’s, Hassan al-Banna, Al-Zakzaky has often questioned Nigeria’s secularism- asserting that the country should be more like Iran.
Zenn further argues that Nigeria must take note of the IMN leader. In 1979, Al-Zakzaky burnt the Nigerian constitution to protest against secularism.
His rhetoric today is one of Islamic fundamentalism which capitalises on poverty, unemployment, and violence in Nigeria’s north.
By painting the West as a symbol of anti-Islamic oppression, Al-Zakzaky appeals to Nigerian Sunni Muslims, and creates a fertile ground for radicalisation.
Al-Zakzaky transformed IMN from a student group to a mass movement that called for a jihad and Sharia across Nigeria.
The IMN, Al-Zakzaky and his understudy Mustapha Lawan Nasidi, a.k.a Yakubu Yahaya, a more radical and violence-prone Imam must continue to be of interest to the Nigerian authorities, analysts say.
According to the 2013 Combatting Terrorism Center report, Iran is promoting Khomeinsm through the IMN so as to influence Nigerian Muslims to revolt against Westernisation.
IMN would also become a recruitment base and offer ideological development for Shia and non-Shia extremist groups in Nigeria.
By: Konye Obaji Ori and Charles Idem