15th December, 2015
At least 60 people were killed this weekend when the Nigerian army raided a minority Shi’ite sect and arrested its leader in the northern city of Zaria, the director of a local hospital said on Monday.
The army said the Islamic Movement in Nigeria was trying to assassinate the chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, when members of the sect blocked his convoy in Zaria on Saturday. The sect was conducting an annual ritual to usher in the month of Maulud, the birth month of the Prophet Mohammed.
On Sunday, the army raided several buildings connected to the sect and the home of its leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky. They arrested him and killed members of the group, such as spokesman Ibrahim Usman. The group changed its statement on the fate of Zakzaky’s second-in-command, Muhammad Turi, saying he was still alive on Monday and receiving treatment.
“As of yesterday, we had 60 corpses in our morgue,” Khalid Lawal, chief medical director of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, told Reuters by phone. Lawal said 28 others were injured.
On Monday evening, Major General Adeniyi Oyebade, based in Kaduna, said that there were casualties on both sides but did not give figures. Oyebade said Zakzaky was in their custody along with his wife.
The Shi’ite sect claims that hundreds of its members were killed. The army took most of the bodies away, making it impossible to verify the claim.
Residents said they heard loud blasts during the raids centred on the group’s headquarters and Zakzaky’s residence. A Reuters reporter was barred entry to the areas that were cordoned off on Sunday but could see smoke rising.
On a return trip to Zaria on Monday, Reuters saw blood-stained streets and that the three buildings of the Shi’ite group’s headquarters had been destroyed, leaving just the fence and open field where worshippers used to gather. At
Zakzaky’s residence, bullet holes pockmarked the central structure as well as a vehicle.
Witnesses said the Shi’ite members were defending themselves with bows and arrows and hand-held catapults.
Most of Nigeria’s tens of millions of Muslims are Sunni, including the Boko Haram jihadist militants who have killed thousands in bombings and shootings, mainly in northeastern Nigeria, since 2009.
But there are also several thousand Shi’ites, mostly followers of Zakzaky, whose movement was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Shi’ite Iran.
Iran condemned the attack on Monday and summoned Nigeria’s representative there, according to its state news agency.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on the Nigerian government to take “prompt and serious” action.
Spokesmen for Nigeria’s presidency declined to comment and referred Reuters to the army spokesman, who did not answer multiple requests for comment.
A similar altercation between the sect and the army occurred last year during a procession. Zakzaky said that 30 followers and three of his children were killed.