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No evidence UAE has Nigerian politician Atiku Abubakar on a terror watchlist

A Facebook post claims Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former vice president, has been put on the United Arab Emirates’ terrorism watchlist.

The post claims Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in the 2019 elections, met “individuals believed to have close links to key leaders of the Islamic State’s West Africa Province”, known as Iswap.

Iswap is a splinter faction of terror group Boko Haram.

The claim was attributed to unidentified security sources. It has also appeared on blogs and was tweeted by President Muhammadu Buhari’s social media aide, Lauretta Onochie, on 7 May 2019.

In her tweet Onochie said Abubakar was in the UAE “shopping for terrorists”, but gave no evidence for the claim. Abubakar has filed a N2.5 billion (about US$ 7 million) libel suit against Onochie for the tweet.

Claim on fake Gulf News front page

The claim is also made in what looks like a photo of the front page of the 4 May 2019 edition of Gulf News, with the headline “Atiku on UAE watchlist”. The image has been shared on Facebook and published by a blogs. Gulf News is the biggest selling English newspaper in the UAE.

But a number of clues suggest the front page image is fake.

The headline typeface and design is significantly different from those of recent editions of Gulf News. And the Gulf News front page published on 4 May 2019 looks nothing like the newspaper in the image, and doesn’t mention Abubakar.

More than this, the front page in the image misspells the Islamic month in its date. There is no month in the Islamic calendar, also known as Hijri Calendar, called “Haban”. The correct Islamic date for 4 May 2019 is Shaaban 28 1440, as shown on the real newspaper.

Third, the photo of Abubakar used on the fake front page first appeared online when the politician tweeted it on 8 May 2019 – four days after the newspaper was supposedly printed. And the claim that he was “on the UAE watchlist” first appeared online on 10 May 2019.

Africa Check asked Gulf News about the image. “Please, be advised this is fake page,” they told us.

Claims in the post debunked

The Facebook post also says SITE, a “website known for tracking global terror activities, confirmed in an email that security operatives have indeed placed the Nigerian politician on its watchlist”.

Africa Check asked the SITE Intelligence Group about the post.

“Thank you for bringing this article to our attention,” the organisation told us in an email. “SITE never reported or confirmed any claim of Atiku Abubakar being on a government's terrorism watch list. Abubakar has indeed been referenced in our past reporting, though only as a subject of reference by groups like Boko Haram or the Niger Delta Avengers.”

And the post’s claim that Abubakar “had been in the Emirates since the February 23 Presidential election he lost to the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari” does not add up.

Abubakar made a number of public appearances across Nigeria in late February and in March.

He met the National Peace Committee in Abuja on 28 February. He voted in his home state, Adamawa, in the 9 March governorship election. On 15 March he visited former president Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta and held a series of meetings there. - Allwell Okpi

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