FACT CHECK: Is Communication Minister Isa Pantami on U.S. terror watch list?

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There was a news report that the Nigerian minister was on the U.S. terror watch list.

CLAIM 1:

On April 12, a news site, Independent Newspaper, ran a story with the headline ‘Disquiet As America Places Nigerian Minister On Watch List.’ The piece claimed that communication minister, Isa Pantami, was “on the watch list of the America’s Intelligence Service.”

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CLAIM 2:

A video shared by another news site, Newswire, alongside a freelance journalist, David Hundeyin, suggested that a 2006 debate between Mr Pantami and Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Yusuf, links him to the terror group.

VERDICT:

There is no evidence that Mr Pantami is on the U.S. watch list for terrorism. The U.S. does not disclose those on the list. The source quoted by the platforms that published the report also does not exist. Meanwhile, the newspapers have now deleted their posts.

Also, it is FALSE to claim that the debate between Mr Pantami and the late Yusuf was a friendly chat. It was a heated debate which has now formed the basis for scholarly research on the ideology of Boko Haram.

FULL TEXT:

 

Citing “western intelligence,” which it said was corroborated by “Middle Eastern Intelligence,” Independent Newspaper claimed that the minister had “ties with Abu Quata­da al Falasimi and other Al-Qaeda leaders that he revered and spoke glow­ingly of in several of his videos on YouTube.”

The report was latched on by other platforms, including Newswire, whose version of the claim went viral on Twitter.

The paper accompanied its publication with a video of Mr Pantami engaged in a discussion with former Boko Haram leader, Yusuf Muhammad. It insinuated that the video suggested a link between the minister and the terror group.

A freelance journalist who writes for the paper, David Hundeyin, also reshared the video on Twitter, claiming Mr Pantami was having a “friendly conversation” with a “nice bloke called Mohammed Yusuf who founded Boko Haram.”

The paper would later apologise and retract the report, saying after it “launched an independent audit to evaluate the story,” it found that there was no “direct attribution by the said United States Government agency.”

Following the retraction, Mr Pantami also disclaimed having any link with the Boko Haram insurgent group as alleged in the viral reports. He threatened to press charges.

“Investigative journalism requires the investigation before publishing, not after. Further, major publishers will meet my lawyers in the court on this defamation of character,” the minister wrote

VERIFICATION:

PREMIUM TIMES asked Independent Newspaper’s editor, Don Okere, for the source to the report his platform ran Monday on the subject. He promised to get back to us but did not. A follow-up email sent to him was not replied to.

Likewise, the paper’s managing director and editor-in-chief, Steve Omanufeme, did not reply to an email sent to him.

Shortly after contact was made with them, the platform pulled down the report (which has been archived here).

An official who simply identified himself as Meridez at the FBI office of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria public affairs unit told PREMIUM TIMES he could neither deny nor confirm the claim.

 

The Central Intelligence Agency, whose role includes preventing attacks against U.S. interest abroad, is yet to respond to our email seeking comments. The U.S. Department of State directed us to its African Affairs Bureau, which has not responded to our request. (This report will be updated once they respond).

Unknown source

PREMIUM TIMESʼ checks on the list of the intelligence agencies in the U.S. show that there is no such agency as American Intelligence Service as claimed in the piece.

Meanwhile, in 2003, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government established the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), a multi-agency centre administered by the FBI, to manage a harmonised database called “the watchlist” which contains the identities of those “who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.”

“The TSC uses the watchlist to support front-line screening agencies in positively identifying known or suspected terrorists who are attempting to obtain visas, enter the country, board an aircraft, or engage in other activities,” the FBI wrote.

FBI

Because the TSC is derived from classified intelligence, the FBI said the centre does not confirm or deny whether any individual may be included in the watchlist.

Doing so would “significantly impair the government’s ability to investigate and mitigate terrorism, and expose sensitive national security information.”

The bureau, however, publicises its list of most-wanted terrorists.

By implication, even if the minister was on the watch list, the information would remain discreet.

Ties with Boko Haram?

As against what Mr Hundeyin claimed, the video he shared – a snippet of about an hour from the six hours video recorded by Darul Islam Foundation in Bauchi on June 25, 2006 – was not a friendly chat between Messrs Pantami and Yusuf.

Conversation in the video was largely done in Hausa.

“It was a heated debate between Sheikh Pantami and late Mohammed Yusuf,” PREMIUM TIMES’ head of Hausa desk, Muhammad Lere, said after analysing the transcript of the video.

The debate was held upon an invitation sent to Mr Yusuf by Mr Pantami, wherein they debated Boko Haram’s extremist anti-Western education ideology.

Mr Muhammad explained that Mr Pantami was educating Mr Yusuf, to whom he mentioned the names of over 200 renowned clerics with similar views, on why it was permissible to seek Western education and serve under a non-Islamic state.

“It was very clear in the video that Mr Pantami was providing Islamic proofs from various Islamic clerics around the world who have not only approved of (Western education) but have given written evidence from the scriptures and teachings of the prophet that approve of it,” Mr Muhammad noted.

Debate now source of research

Since the debate was held, it had become a reference point for understanding the extremist doctrines of terror groups.

A research paper was, in fact, written on the debate by Islamic scholars, one that has now become a useful resource when studying religious extremism.

Meanwhile, last February, the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a nine-minute video where he threatened Mr Pantami and some journalists, saying they should be cautious about what they report or write about his group.

CONCLUSION:

There is no evidence that Mr Pantami is on the U.S. watch list for terrorism. The source quoted by the newspapers that published the report does not exist. Meanwhile, the newspapers have now deleted their posts.

False. Also, the debate between Mr Pantami and the late Yusuf was not a friendly chat as claimed. It was a heated debate that has now formed the basis for scholarly research on the ideology of Boko Haram.

  • Credit : Premium Times
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