Nigeria’s military has opened fire on hundreds of Muslim protesters calling for the release of imprisoned cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, who is still in prison despite a 2016 high court ruling ordering his unconditional freedom.
Nigerian soldiers attacked hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) as they took part in the march for the release of Sheikh Zakzaky in the capital Abuja on Monday.
Witness said some victims were lying on the ground on a road in the area of Kugbo on Abuja’s outskirts following the army assault.
“The security agents attacked members of the IMN when they were in the procession coming into Abuja,” the IMN spokesman, Ibrahim Musa, said.
“People were killed definitely. We don’t carry arms on our procession, we don’t block roads … the security agents have decided to shed our blood,” he added without giving a death toll.
Rights group Amnesty International said reports that troops were firing live bullets at protesters were “very disturbing,” adding, “Firing live bullets at unarmed protesters is unlawful.”
Rights groups have accused Nigeria’s military of killing more than 300 IMN supporters and burying them in mass graves during the 2015 confrontation, a charge the military strongly denies.
This comes after at least 10 people were killed in an attack by Nigerian security forces against Muslims on Saturday. Reports in local Nigerian media said scores of people had also been injured after Nigerian security forces opened fire on Muslim worshipers gathering for a procession in Zuba in Gwagwalada area of Abuja.
James Myam, a military spokesman, claimed in a statement released on Sunday that soldiers opened fire on the IMN members after they “pelted the troops with stones.” He also accused mourners of “illegal roadblock” in the area.
But the IMN disputed the claim, calling the military account “false” and “unsubstantiated.” Musa said the army had attacked a peaceful mourning procession. “We categorically refute the storyline of the Nigerian army.”
The Saturday attack came as Muslim worshipers had gathered near Abuja from Suleja, in Niger state, for a three-day procession to commemorate the annual Arba’een occasion, which marks the 40th day since the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (PBUH), Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.
IMN sources earlier said the group will go ahead with plans for “Arba’een Symbolic Trek” and expected that more than a million would turn up at the march.
Nigeria’s crackdown on IMN followers began in December 2015 when the army attacked a religious ceremony in the city of Zaria in the northern Nigeria. Nigerian forces later raided the house of IMN leader Sheikh Zakzaky and arrested him after killing those attempting to protect the prominent Muslim cleric.
Scores of Zakzaky’s followers were arrested during the brutal raid by security forces on the cleric’s IMN headquarters in December 2015.
During the raid, Nigerian forces killed nearly 300 Zakzaky’s supporters, including three of his sons, and later buried them in mass graves.
Sheikh Zakzaky and his wife, who were shot and injured during the raid, were taken into custody.
A Federal High Court had ordered Zakzaky’s unconditional release in 2016, but the Nigerian government has so far refused to abide by the ruling.
This is while a spokesman for the Islamic movement stated back in March that the government in Abuja was planning to indefinitely hold the cleric and his wife in custody.