Nigerian journalist killed; Islamists claim responsibility

New York, October 24, 2011–Authorities in northeastern Nigeria must urgently take steps to ensure the safety of media workers, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today following Saturday’s assassination of a journalist in a shooting claimed by Islamist militants.

Zakariya Isa, 41, a reporter and cameraman with the state-run Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), was shot dead in front of his residence in Maiduguri, capital of the Northeastern state of Borno, on Saturday around 7:30 p.m. local time, Sale Mahdi, news manager of the local NTA bureau, told CPJ.  Moments before the murder, the gunman and another man had approached Isa to borrow a water kettle, supposedly to perform ritual Islamic ablutions before prayer, Mahdi said. Isa had been on vacation since Friday, he added.

Today, Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group which seeks the imposition of Shariah law in the predominantly Muslim states of northern Nigeria, disclosed it was behind the killing, according to local journalists and Agence France-Presse. AFP cited an email statement in the local Hausa language from Boko Haram spokesman Abul Qaqa, in which the militants said they “killed [Isa] not because he was a journalist but for his personal misconduct.” The statement added: “We killed him because he was spying on us for Nigerian security authorities,” according to AFP.  “We have ample evidence … that he was giving vital information to security agencies on our mode of operation that led to the arrest of many of our members.”

Local journalists and Nigerian authorities rejected the accusations, according to AFP. The Boko Haram statement also warned that the group would not hesitate to “kill anybody that steps on our toes” and follows a statement in Maiduguri in September in which the group threatened to attack media organizations over what it described as misrepresentation of its activities, press reports said.

“We condemn the murder of Zakariya Isa and deplore the targeting of journalists by Boko Haram,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on Nigerian authorities to counter near-impunity in the murders of journalists by ensuring that Isa’s killers are brought to justice.”

According to Mahdi, threatening text messages from Boko Haram members and supporters prompted three journalists from the local NTA station to flee the region in recent weeks. NTA journalists also come under pressure from security forces over their coverage of Boko Haram, he said.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings and assassinations in the country, including the August 26 suicide bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria.

Isa started his career at NTA in 1992 and left behind two wives and two children, according to Mahdi.