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ISIS linked Cleric Arrested in Lebanon on His Way to Nigeria.

Valentine Chinyem

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A radical Muslim cleric, Ahmad al-Assir has been arrested by Lebanese authorities as he attempted to leave Lebanon to Nigeria via Cairo.

Assir was apprehended while attempting to travel with a fake Palestinian passport and a valid Nigerian visa at the Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport early Saturday, August 15, 2015 in Lebanon, according to a statement released by General Security.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reports that Assir, who was travelling with another man, was holding a fake passport in the name of Rami Abdul Rahman Taleb, while his companion was holding a passport in the name of Khaled Sidani. The driver who drove Assir to the airport in a Mercedes Benz was later arrested.

al assir

Unconfirmed reports said Assir had shaved off his beard and undergone facial surgery. An unverified photo has been circulating in the Lebanese media purporting to show Assir without his signature bread, and it appears that he has had plastic surgery.

Sheikh Assir has been on the run for two years. He was declared wanted in Lebanon in 2013 when his followers clashed with the Lebanese army killing at least 18 soldiers.

The radical cleric was relatively unknown prior to the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011. But, he quickly gained notoriety as a “a self-proclaimed defender of Sunni rights” due to his fiery anti-Hezbollah rhetoric. Hezbollah is Lebanon’s Shia movement which backs Syria’s President Assad. He had been recruiting his followers to join the Islamic State terrorist group (ISIS) in Syria fighting against Assad’s government.

Violence broke out in 2013 when one of Assir’s men was caught with unlicensed weapons in his car at a military checkpoint in Sidon, south of Beirut. In reaction, Assir’s followers opened fire on the soldiers manning the checkpoint sparking a two-day battle between his militants and the army.

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According to reports, machine guns and rockets were used on the Lebanese troops by Assir’s men in fierce fighting which ended with at least 18 soldiers and 40 militants dead. Heavy weapons and military-style uniforms were discovered in Assir’s compound.

Assir is regarded as media savvy and is known for his publicity stunts.

Alexander Mukhtar Dan’Iyan, the editor-in-chief of the 15Past8 Media Group based in New York City, who goes by the name @MrAyeDee on Twitter, says that Assir is the ”unofficial de-facto Emir of ISIS in Lebanon”.

Assir’s fugitive status and his links with ISIS raise serious questions for the Nigerian government. How would a radical Muslim cleric, a fugitive linked to ISIS be granted a Nigerian visa on a fake Palestinian passport? What was Assir’s mission in Nigeria? Who are his contacts in Nigeria? Who was he communicating with in Nigeria? Where was he planning to stay in Nigeria?

The deadly terrorist group, Boko Haram which has killed over 60,000 in Nigeria and displaced millions from their homes in North Eastern Nigeria had last year declared allegiance to ISIS. The group recently spread its operations to neighbouring countries.

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