The brother of Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the Iranian-funded and inspired Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), has accused Iran of converting Zakzaky and said the IMN should be proscribed for causing terror, according to an interview with Nigeria’s Punch Newspapers.
“Iran invited him to their country to join them (become a Shiite), and they financed him. Originally, El-Zakzaky was Sunni but Iran lured him into becoming a Shiite,” Zakzaky’s reported brother Sheikh Mohammed Yakoob told Punch’s Ted Odogwu on Saturday.
According to the Punch interview, Sheikh Yakoob also alleged that Iran promised to make Zakzaky “their Shiite ambassador in Nigeria.”
Zakzaky, a Nigerian Shiite cleric, founded the IMN in the early 1980s after he visited post-revolution Iran. The group draws inspiration from Iran’s former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini and has received financial and political support from Iran since its inception.
The IMN, which advocates for an Iranian-style republic in Nigeria, has been banned and designated as a terrorist organization by the Nigerian government. The banning of the group has drawn attention to Iranian influence among the Shiite community in Nigeria, which makes up an estimated five to 17 percent of Nigeria’s 100 million Muslims, amid fears of sectarian conflict erupting as the IMN rejects the authority of Nigeria’s Sunni President Muhammadu Buhari.
A Nigerian expert on the IMN who wished to remain anonymous emphasized Iran’s support for the organization.
“They use fatwa [legal verdicts] issued by the Iranian clerics. They always look up to these clerics as sources of spiritual guidance and light. Members of IMN enjoy Iranian scholarships and study in Iranian universities/institutions, especially in [the Iranian city of] Qom,” the source told Al Arabiya English.
The source also alleged that Iran’s finances are facilitating the IMN’s recruitment tactics, suggesting the financial support from Iran was “utilized to economically empower new converts to Shiism. The economic empowerment is one of the potent weapons and strategies adopted by IMN to win loyalty of its distressed members.”
Yakoob also criticized the IMN, alleging that its members carry guns and agreeing with the Nigerian government that it causes terror, as reported by Punch.
Regarding the 2015 incident in which his brother was arrested, Yakoob blamed IMN members for “attacking” Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and suggested they should “learn to face the consequences.” Other commentators have disputed this view, pointing to the Nigerian government’s disproportionately violent crackdown on the IMN.
Zakzaky was arrested in December 2015 after the Nigerian government stormed the IMN’s offices, resulting in approximately 350 deaths. The IMN has since been campaigning for his release, with protests often turning violent.
When asked by Punch if the IMN has arms, Yakoob responded “If you ask any security agency in Nigeria, they will tell you that Shiites have arms, but not enough to fight with. They have both local and foreign-made guns but they are not enough to fight. They kill soldiers and police officers.”
Sheikh Yakoob, who is a Sunni Muslim, also expressed anti-Shiite views during the Punch interview.
Zakzaky was granted bail to fly to India for medical treatment on Monday last week.