Muslim sect accuses Nigerian military of inhumane attack
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/13/16, 02:30 pm
The Nigerian military killed and buried 347 Shiite Muslims in mass graves following a December clash, the Kaduna state government said during a public hearing of inquiry on Monday. The revelations underscore the ongoing sectarian conflicts in the country that is already battling with the Sunni Islamist insurgency group Boko Haram.
Nigerian forces have monitored Shiite leader Ibrahim Zakzaky for several years, believing he might be trying to create an independent Shiite state. The sect also has a strong backing from Iran, which is considered to be the international protector of Shiites. Iran protested the killings and ordered compensation for the victims.
Similar sectorial disagreements have had deadly results in Syria, where conflict between the Sunni and Shiite forces continues to drive the war. But the Shiites in Nigeria insist they are nonviolent.
In December 2015, the Nigerian military attacked the Shiites in the city of Zaria in Kaduna state. The army said it responded to an attempt to assassinate army Gen. Tukur Buratai when members of the sect blocked his convoy during a religious procession. The forces went on to destroy several of the Shiite’s religious buildings and arrest Zakzaky. Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer who was allowed to see Zakzaky for the first time Friday, said Zakzaky is nearly blind and has undergone several operations to treat gunshot wounds.
Barabe Lawal, secretary of the Kaduna state government, said dozens of state officials and soldiers transported 347 bodies from a mortuary to a bush site for burial. Ibrahim Musa, a Shiite spokesman, said nearly 1,000 Shiites are missing and several were illegally detained without fair hearing. He added that some injured Shiites died in detention due to lack of medical care. The Nigerian military retorted that it acted out of self-defense, but human rights groups have lashed out against it.
“The Nigerian military’s version of events does not stack up,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director of Human Rights Watch in a statement. “At best, it was a brutal overreaction, and at worst, a planned attack on the minority Shia group.”
Amnesty International on Tuesday called for an investigation following the hearing and asked that those responsible be brought to trial.
“The Islamic Movement is totally and completely different from the so-called Boko Haram,” Musa said. “Sheikh Zakzaky has said it many times that we only talk, but we don’t fight.”
Despite the Shiites’ peace claims, Malte Liewerscheidt, an Africa analyst at research and investment firm Verisk Maplecroft, told Agence France-Presse that the Nigerian army’s failure to follow due process could result in an unpredictable security threat.
“The risk of escalation will be compounded if the military response spirals out of control and if due process is ignored in the handling of Zakzaky and his followers who are in custody,” Liewerscheidt said.
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.