Ahmad Al-Assir And The Boko Haram Connection

On August 15th 2015, Ahmad Al-Assir the fiery Lebanese self-described non-denominational Sunni cleric was arrested at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, on his way to board a flight to Abuja, Nigeria, using a forged Palestinian passport, and spotting a complete makeover to disguise his identity.
Immediately news of his arrest broke across the newswire services, pundits and anlyst across the globe began offering up all sorts of explanations and theories as to what he was heading to Nigeria to do. Most agreed that he was most probably seeking to join up with Boko Haram. I cannot definitely say that this is or is not the case, rather what I can say is let us look at things all round so that we better understand why this may not necessarily be what he was planning to do.
Firstly, one must recognize that Ahmad Al-Assir was a political sheikh. He was not really tied into the whole Islamic State, Caliphate, Trans-National Jihad ideology that groups like Boko Haram’s factions, Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and even Hizbut-Tahrir espouse on a daily basis. He was an opportunist who wanted to be the Sunni Lebanese equivalent of Hassan Nasrullah the Hizbullah leader. He was more of a politician than a jihadi, and his group’s escalation into violence was not their original aim. He loved appearing on Tv shows and railing against Hizbullah’s predominance in the Lebanese political scene. He was a radical anti-Shia television politico-religious personality, but he was loyal to Lebanon and the idea of Lebanon, and was not in anyway an Al-Qaeda/Islamic State/Boko Haram kind of jihadi ideologue, although after his going into hiding traces of that jihadi ideology began to enter into his writings and speeches.
So there was no ideological meeting point between him and Boko Haram. They were not speaking the same ideological language nor were they on the same wavelength. He was a Sunni Lebanese, Boko Haram’s identity is based on the Yusufiyyah sect. To Al-Assir any none Shia/Alawi Lebanese ‘Muslim’, whether Sufi or Salafi was a Sunni and was therefore a part of his constituency. But to Boko Haram, any none Yusufi Muslim whether Sufi or Salafi or even Shia was an apostate, and was worse off than the Christians and Jews. Going by Boko Haram’s ideological teachings, one can accurate conclude that to the various Boko Haram factions, Al-Assir would be regarded as even less of a human than the Christians and Jews.
Again, Al-Assir was not taking the regular route Islamic State’s Central Headquarters in Ar-Raqqah uses to funnel personnel and the few support materials it can transfer to its allies in the Islamic State’s West African Province. Rather Al-Assir was using an amateur’s route. Taking a direct flight from Beirut to Abuja with a stopover in Cairo. If nothing else, this convinces me that Al-Assir was not in contact with Boko Haram’s factions and was most probably just coming down here to hide out and try his luck to survive until he can rebuild himself enough to attain some level of prominence back home. Islamic State operatives heading to Nigeria would never take a direct flight to Abuja or Lagos from Beirut, as airlines are routes of movement that they don’t control. Anything could go wrong. Rather they take boats and ships to get to Libya’s coast, and travel overland through territories they have allies in or their affiliates control until they get to the Libya-Niger border, and then they use local Arab and Tuareg allies to travel across the porous Nigerien territory into Nigeria. If Al-Assir was being helped by Boko Haram or Islamic State to flee Lebanon to Nigeria, this would have been his route.
So what was Al-Assir coming down here to do? Most likely to hide out and rebuild his strength from here. There is a very large and thriving Lebanese community in Nigeria, many of whom have lived here for the greater part of their lives. Many of the Lebanese in Nigeria hold Nigerian citizenship, and an even greater proportion are married to Nigerian spouses. They are mostly concentrated in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest metropolitan area. But they maintain a significant presence in Abuja where they own malls, auto dealerships, construction companies etc. A man like Al-Assir would be able to pose as a Palestinian-Lebanese, move down here and live for years without being caught. This is because Nigeria’s security services are notoriously corrupt and usually bend over for expatriates seeking to live out their days here, as such expatriates in a lot of cases tend to become local powerbrokers, rolling in the same circles as the governors, presidents and traditional rulers i.e the elite that run this country’s affairs. I believe strongly that Al-Assir had a support network of friends and probably relatives who have made lives here in Nigeria, and who would have assisted him with owning a house, starting a business etc. And even if he didn’t have such a personal support system just waiting to be co-opted into helping him make a new life here, many of his flock in Sidon, would have such support systems that would be willing to help him out. Put also in consideration that some of the local Sunni Lebanese community here are probably his sympathizers and loyal ideological followers, who believe that the Sunnis got the worst deal after the 1995 Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese Civil War. These local supporters of his would definitely help their sheikh hide out here, make a new life and avoid being arrested, by providing him with financial assistance, helping him establish a business, and bribing the local immigration and security services to avoid looking into the new man that Al-Assir would become while living in Nigeria. And then whenever Al-Assir decided to start rebuilding his movement in Lebanon, using Nigeria as his rear base area, these local Lebanese Sunnis will definitely support him with generous financial donations etc. Whatever the case was, it all ended in failure when Ahmad Al-Assir was spotted and arrested by Lebanese security operatives as he attempted to board the flight that would have taken him from Beirut to safety in Nigeria. And for that thank God. We have enough problems of our own here without adding Lebanon’s sectarian issues to what is on our plate already.


2 thoughts on “Ahmad Al-Assir And The Boko Haram Connection

  1. Oche

    A brilliant intelligence-write up from Fulan as usual.

    I also had this gut feeling that Al Assir had/has no connection whatsoever with Boko Haram


  2. L

    Doesn’t make a lot of sense. islamic state is not yusufiya sect are they, yet closely alligned with the terrorists. one thing is that maybe there wasn’t no intention but to state that as a reason is nonsense to be honest.

    Maybe he had other intentions but it’s clear he had close links to a terrorist organisation which made him a danger to our society.


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