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Nigeria’s government has taken the controversial decision to ban a pro-Iranian Shia group, accusing it of unleashing violence and being an “enemy of the state”.

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is challenging the ban, arguing that it is a peaceful movement which has, in fact, borne the brunt of state-orchestrated violence.

These developments have raised fears of oil-rich Nigeria becoming the latest battleground in the conflict between the world’s two main Muslim sects, Shia and Sunni.

On Monday, a court in Kaduna in northern Nigeria, ruled that the group’s founder and leader Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky – who has been in police detention since 2015 – should be allowed to travel to India to receive medical treatment. He has been suffering minor strokes and is reported to be losing his sight.

What is the IMN?

Formed about four decades ago, it advocates the creation of an Iranian-style Islamic state in Nigeria.

It was heavily influenced by the Iranian revolution, which saw Ayatollah Khomeini take power in 1979 after the overthrow of the US-allied Shah in a popular uprising.

Khomeini remains the group’s main inspiration: IMN supporters first pledge allegiance to him at their gatherings, and then to their local leader, Sheikh Zakzaky.

The IMN views itself as a government, and Sheikh Zakzaky as the only legitimate source of authority in Nigeria.

It does not recognise the authority of the Nigerian government, and views its leaders – both Muslims and Christians – as corrupt and ungodly.

It has well-organised branches and administrative structures in most of Nigeria’s 36 states to give it the semblance of a government.

The IMN also operates its own schools and hospitals in some states in northern Nigeria, where most Muslims live. Read more

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