The Presidency has cautioned Nigerians against dragging President Muhammadu Buhari into the controversy surrounding how a leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, Ahmed Al-Assir, got a Nigerian visa.
Mallam Garba Shehu, Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, said yesterday that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has demanded a report from the Nigerian mission in Lebanon, should be allowed to carry out the assignment.
According to Shehu, dragging the person of President Buhari into the controversy was mischievous.
Al-Assir, reputed to be the Chief Imam of ISIS, was arrested on August 15 at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport in Lebanon on his way to Nigeria through Egypt. He had been on Lebanon’s security watch list since 2013 and was nabbed holding a fake Palestinian passport with the Nigerian visa.
He had also being on the wanted list of many governments, with the Lebanese government accusing him of involvement in the death of 17 Lebanese soldiers, sentencing him to death in the process.
It is however still unclear how he got a valid Nigerian visa, a mystery that is already creating ripples.
Though Al-Assir was said to have changed his identity and presented fake documents, the Federal Government is said to be disturbed, ordering an investigation into the matter to be sure there were no internal collaborators.
A security source, who spoke to The Nation said: “As I talk to you, 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 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.”
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.”
However, confirming that the Federal Government had commenced investigation into the matter, Mallam Garba Shehu, said: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called for a full report on the case and it is investigating it.
“But it is mischievous for anyone to attempt to drag the person of President Muhammadu Buhari into the incident. 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.”