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Nigeria: Death toll mounts as Shia Muslims protest against ‘massacre’

16th Dec 2015
Nigeria: Death toll mounts as Shia Muslims protest against ‘massacre’
By Rafiu Ajakaye


LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – At least seven people were killed Tuesday in clashes between police and the supporters of a Shia Muslims in northern Nigeria.

The violence in Zaria came days after dozens died in fighting between the Nigerian army and followers of the Islamic Movement, according to eyewitness accounts and the movement’s spokesman.

“We counted six lifeless bodies when the rally of the Shia suddenly turned violent… following a disagreement between the Shia members and riot policemen stationed in front of a police post,” Adigun Saheed, a researcher who works in the area, told Anadolu Agency by phone.

He said another Shia died near Ahmadu Bello University after trying to grab a police officer’s rifle.

“As he tried to seize a rifle from a policeman following an argument, the next cop just shot him dead,” Saheed said.

Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of Islamic Movement supporters protested in support of leader Ibrahim Zakzaky, who was arrested on Sunday.

Clad in the group’s signature black clothing and green scarves, demonstrators held placards condemning the weekend “massacre” in Zaria and demanding Zakzaky’s release.

Lawal Khalid, the chief medical director at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, said the hospital had received 61 bodies since Saturday, when clashes between the sect’s followers and security forces first erupted.

An acting spokesman for the Islamic Movement, Ibrahim Musa, said three supporters had been killed in the protest in Zaria’s Tudun Nupawa neighborhood, adding that others were missing.

“We can confirm that three of our members were killed by policemen,” he said. “Many others were injured while we cannot account for some others.”

In a later statement, he added: “Our members started a peaceful protest from the Layin Kosai area of Kaduna. However, when we reached Tudun Nupawa near Enugu Road mobile police in about five vehicles opened fire on the protesters.”

Police spokesman Abubakar Zubairu denied any deaths. “They came to attack our police post at Tundun Nupawa but we repelled them with minimum force available to us,” he said. “They were attacking police and innocent people so we had to step in to secure lives and properties. Nobody died.”

Dozens of Shia Muslims have been killed and community centers demolished since Saturday, when Shia protesters barricaded the road to the army’s chief of staff in a move the military later said was an attempt to assassinate Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai.

The Islamic Movement’s leader Ibrahim Zakzaky was arrested Sunday in an operation in which several family members were killed.

Nigeria Interior Minister Abdurrahman Dambazzau rushed to Zaria to defuse the situation himself as the army and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria traded blames over the incident.

Late Monday, Nigerian army confirmed that el-Zakyzaky had been taken into custody following deadly clashes between the military and the cleric’s supporters over the weekend.

A photograph of Zakzaky, badly wounded and half-naked, circulated on social media on Tuesday but Anadolu Agency was unable to verify the image.

The cleric came to prominence in the early 1980s when he was an opponent of the government.

During the regime of dictator Sani Abacha he was jailed for two years although the government later withdrew the case against him.

Last year, at least 34 members of the Islamic Movement, including three of Zakzaky’s sons, were allegedly killed by Nigerian troops in Zaria amid protests. An army report into the incident is yet to be made public.

Earlier this month, dozens of people died in a suicide attack on a Shia procession near the northwestern city of Kano. Shia leaders later claimed the attack had been masterminded by the army.

Nigeria’s Shia population is thought to number around 4 million in a country of 170 million and is concentrated in the northwestern states of Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto.

Author: Rafiu Oriyomi Ajakaye
[Photo: Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky’s followers killed by the army. Photogrpher: Tajo Malli/Creative Commons]

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