There are reports coming out of Nigeria that hundreds of people may have been killed by troops in the northern state of Kaduna.
The circumstances of the alleged massacre are still unclear but Nigerian media are saying that it occurred as a procession of Shia Muslims marched towards a mosque on Saturday.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai, was said to be passing through Zaria at the same time but was unable to pass through the procession. The soldiers escorting him reportedly insisted that they would not allow their Chief to be humiliated by ordinary citizens who were breaking the law.
After the incident Nigeria’s military said Shia Muslims attacked the Chief of Army staff’s convoy in Zaria in an apparent assassination attempt.
“The sect numbering hundreds carrying dangerous weapons, barricaded the roads with bonfires, heavy stones and tires,” the Army said in a statement. “They refused all entreaties to disperse and then started firing and pelting the convoy with dangerous objects.”
It said soldiers had “no choice” but to defend the convoy “at all cost,” adding in a statement two days later that the “loss of lives” was “most unfortunate.”
But the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria, or IMN, rejected that account. It said scores of its members were killed, “centers destroyed and burnt to ashes” in subsequent raids.
There were conflicting reports of how many were killed in the initial incident – or in the subsequent raids in Zaria near the home of the IMN’s founder, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky.
Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky as he was arrested
A statement by IMN spokesman Ibrahim Musa said “about a thousand” members of the IMN had been massacred. Musa was later quoted by the Associated Press as saying that about 200 bodies were taken away from the area about Zakzaky’s home in Zaria on Monday.
The IMN – along with human-rights organizations – said Zakzaky’s relatives were among the dead and that the leader himself had been injured and arrested.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International said anyone found responsible for the “unlawful killings must be brought to justice.”
“An impartial investigation is urgently needed into these killings,” Amnesty’s Nigeria Director M.K. Ibrahim said in a statement. “Whilst the final death toll is unclear, there is no doubt that there has been a substantial loss of life at the hands of the military.
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) is based in Kaduna state and was founded by Zakzaky. Nigeria’s military – which has long been accused of massive human rights violations – is already locked in a battle with the Boko Haram group.
The London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission said it had received reports that thousands of protestors had gathered in Kaduna to peacefully protest and demand the release of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Mu'allim Ibrahim el-Zakzaky and the many others currently illegally detained.
It said that in Zaria, the army had demolished the parts of el-Zakzaky's house left standing after its raid on his home over the weekend. It said reports are circulating about mass graves being dug and filled by the army to dispose of bodies of victims of army actions over the weekend.
Chair of IHRC, Massoud Shadjareh said: "This proves without any shadow of a doubt that the Nigerian army is out of control, and has been given carte blanche to deal with certain groups."