Nigeria's military accused of killing hundreds of Shiite Muslims

Human Rights Watch said at least 300 people were killed in a two-day assault and many buried in mass graves. Nigeria's Army hasn't given its own version of events. 

Dar Yasin/AP
A Kashmiri Shiite leader, second from right, wearing black cap, shout slogans against the Nigerian government detaining their leader Ibraheem Zakzaky in Nigeria, in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. Nigerian Soldiers killed hundreds of Shiite Muslims this weekend after their group opened fire on the convoy of Nigeria's army chief, the Shia Islamic Movement and military reports said Monday.

A deadly raid by Nigerian troops against a Shiite Muslim sect in mid-December was “wholly unjustified”, Human Rights Watch said in a new report Wednesday, as accusations mounted over the incident in the northern city of Zaria. 

In its report of the two-day raid, HRW accused the Nigerian Army of killing and quickly burying the bodies of at least 300 Shia Muslims from the Islamic Movement on Nigeria (IMN) sect in mass graves. It said shots were fired at children. Nigerian activists have estimated that up to 1,000 people were killed between Dec. 12 to Dec. 14. The mass burials, carried out without family permission, make the exact toll hard to calculate.

"At best it was a brutal overreaction and at worst it was a planned attack on the minority Shia group," HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele said.

Nigeria's military was responding to what it claims was an assassination attempt by the sect against Army chief Gen. Tukur Burata. It refutes the HRW account, though it has yet to release its own count. HRW said Nigerian troops attacked a mosque, a burial site and the home of IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Al Zakzaky. His wife and son are among the dead. 

Sheikh Zakzaky is the founder of IMN, a movement that has an estimated 3 million followers in Nigeria and close ties to Iran. Zakzaky, who is is currently in custody, is a devoted follower of Iran's late Ayatollah Khomeini, even choosing to dress like an ayatollah.

News reports on what happened in Zaria seem to point to a disproportionate reaction by Nigerian troops. According to CNN:

The trouble began Saturday, when thousands of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a pro-Iranian Shia group, held a march in Zaria, in Kaduna State, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.

The Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, and his convoy wound up trapped in the gridlock.

According to some accounts, a metal object was thrown at the general's vehicle by someone in the crowd. Soldiers mistook the sound for gunshots and apparently thought it was part of an attempt to assassinate the general.

At any rate, soldiers in the convoy opened fire, killing a number of people.

The incident comes as President Muhammadu Buhari tries to focus on the fight against Boko Haram, a Sunni Islamist group active in northeast Nigeria. Mr. Buhari has yet to release a public statement on the incident; a spokesman said the killings were a “military affair.”  

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called Buhari to demand an explanation as thousands of protesters took to the streets in Iran to protest the killing, as well as in areas of northern Nigeria and parts of India. Mr. Rouhani called for an independent investigation, though IMN has already rejected a committee set up by the government, calling it biased.

This incident is not the first clash between IMN and Nigeria's Army. Muslim leaders have warned the Army to tread carefully, citing Boko Haram as an example of what happens when extrajudicial killings by troops lead to greater militancy and spiraling unrest. 

"The history of the circumstances that engendered the outbreak of militant insurgency in the past, with cataclysmic consequences that Nigeria is yet to recover from, should not be allowed to repeat itself," said Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and leader of Nigeria's Muslims, in a statement Monday.

"Nigeria has not learned its lessons,"said Shehu Sani, a senator representing Kaduna, the state within which the massacres occurred. "This was how Boko Haram started, with the extrajudicial killing of their leader in 2009. What happened in Zaria was nothing but an act of brutality by the Nigerian military."

Boko Haram's founding leader Mohammed Yusuf was killed in 2009 after a deadly crackdown by the Army. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Nigeria's military accused of killing hundreds of Shiite Muslims
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2015/1223/Nigeria-s-military-accused-of-killing-hundreds-of-Shiite-Muslims
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe