ZARIA, Nigeria, Dec 15, (Agencies): At least 60 people were killed this weekend when the Nigerian army raided a minority Shiite 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 Mawlid, the birth month of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). 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 secondin- 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 Shiite sect claims that hundreds of its members were killed. The army took most of the bodies away, making it impossible to verify the claim. On a return trip to Zaria on Monday, Reuters saw bloodstained streets and that the three buildings of the Shiite 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 Shiite 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.
Furthermore, Iran summoned Nigeria’s charge d’affaires to protest over the Nigerian army’s deadly crackdown on pro-Iranian Shiites in the north of the country, the official IRNA news agency reported Tuesday. The diplomat was told the foreign ministry on Monday that Iran “demands the Nigerian government immediately shed light on the incidents, treat the injured, and compensate for damages,” IRNA said. It said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also called for “immediate and serious action to prevent violence” against Shiites in a telephone call to his Nigerian counterpart Geoffrey Onyeama. The IMN seeks to establish an Islamic state through an Iranianstyled revolution. “We have reports that bodies of our members killed outside the house of our leader are being evacuated in trucks by soldiers,” IMN spokesman Ibrahim Musa told AFP. Musa said victims of the violence included Zakzaky’s wife, son and a former IMN spokesman. The military claimed Shiites attacked a convoy of the army chief, Yusuf Buratai, leaving soldiers no option but to retaliate. The IMN, however, denied the charge.