Muhammad Ashafa, alleged leader of the al-Qaeda in Nigeria,
Posted by admin on 2007/2/27 15:59:36
The second court appearance of Muhammad Ashafa, alleged leader of the al-Qaeda in Nigeria, throws up high drama and near-tragedy, as a photo journalist almost got shot by security operatives
By Oluokun Ayorinde/Abuja
His sparse frame hardly recommends him for success in any physical engagement. But at the Federal Court of Abuja last Tuesday, Muhammed Ashafa, alleged leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation in Nigeria, showed he could be a match for bigger men. Ashafa, a 40-year-old from Charanchi Quarters in Kano, was making a second appearance in court to face charges of terrorism. Dressed in a cream-coloured kaftan and wearing a shaggy hair, Ashafa was calm as he stood before the court, presided over by Justice Binta Murtala Nyako.
He was not represented by a counsel, just as he did not during his maiden appearance last December, and spent a very short time in court. Ashafa, unlike before, had lost some weight. He was also wearing the clothes he wore on his first appearance. The presiding judge took notice of this and asked the security operatives to make corrections before adjourning the case. While his entry into the court was without ruckus, Ashafa ensured that his departure was drama-laden. If his intention was to hog attention, Ashafa could not have been more successful, as he became the focal point of everybody present.
As he was being shepherded to the vehicle that brought him, Ashafa suddenly grew stubborn and began struggling with men of the Special Squad of the Police. One of those attracted was Femi Ipaye, a photojournalist with the Abuja Bureau of TheNEWS/PMNEWS . Ipaye, who witnessed how the SSS men sneaked Ashafa into the court premises and courtroom to hide him from the public, said: "I saw him (Ashafa) struggling with the SSS men, trying as much as possible to wriggle himself free from them. The security operatives and State Security Service officers were having a very difficult time controlling him."
Sensing a good photo opportunity, Ipaye brought out his camera. A few clicks and he was in trouble, as one of the operatives pounced on him and attempted to seize the camera. Another drew his gun, cocked it and levelled it at him. Ipaye kept struggling as the man with the gun threatened to shoot. While the threat continued, the other officers broke Ashafa's resistance and stuffed him into a white vehicle, a Peugeot 406. With Ashafa taken care of, the officers joined their colleagues who were manhandling Ipaye. The journalist was eventually dragged outside the court premises, where an operative smashed his rifle butt into Ipaye's ankle in a bid to force him to release the strap of the camera. But the journalist withstood the assault and held on to the camera.
Help finally came Ipaye's way when some lawyers persuaded the prosecution counsel to intervene. The intervention worked as the journalist was freed. Despite the assault, Ipaye vowed that he would not be deterred. Indeed, he was glad that in spite of the attempt of the security men, he was still able to record some shots, including one in which an operative was pointing his gun at him. In recent times, Ashafa, is the second Nigerian to be arraigned in court for alleged links to al-Queda. According to the charge sheet, Ashafa allegedly worked with some al-Qaeda operatives outside the country, with the aim of carrying out terrorist activities against some American interest in Nigeria. Specifically, he was accused of collecting the sum of $1,500 in May 2004 from Talha and Na'deem. Both are al-Qeada operatives in the Tabliq, Lahore, Pakistan. He is thought to have planned to use the money to execute terrorist attacks on the residences of Americans living in Nigeria.
This contravenes Section 15 (1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment Act) 2004. In addition, Ashafa was accused of serving as a courier to the globally infamous organisation by receiving coded messages from its Pakistan headquarters on how to carry out terrorist activities against American interests in Nigeria, which he later passed on to members of Taliban in the country. He allegedly committed this offence between 2003 and 2004. Again, he was alleged to have made his house available as al-Qaeda secret operational base and rendering logistic and intelligence services to of the organisation, as well as training some Nigerians who are members of the Taliban from an Algerian terrorist network known as the Salafis Group.
The group has a combat and preaching camp in Agwan, Niger Republic. He allegedly committed this offence in December, 2003. When he was first arraigned in court last year, the accused who was said to have been brought in from Pakistan requested for an interpreter. He then spoke through a translator, Usman Abubakar, and pleaded not guilty to all the charges. But it became apparent that the accused was playing games outside the courtroom as he later spoke fluent English. About a month ago, the Federal Government arraigned in court Malam Bello Damagun, a director of Abuja-based Daily Trust, on the charges of receiving about $300, 0000 from al-Qeada. According to the government, the money was used to train some members of the Nigerian Taliban in terrorism operations in Mauritania.