Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani is said to be upset about what has been called a “massacre” of Shia Muslims by the Nigerian army in Zaria over the weekend. The majority of Iranians are Shia. Rouhani welcomed President Muhammadu Buhari in Iran just last month.
This article was originally published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Nigerian army killings of Shia Muslims to be investigated
Hundreds said to have been killed during weekend violence in northern town of Zaria, with military claiming Islamist sect tried to attack top general
Julian Borger Diplomatic editor
Wednesday 16 December 2015 19.23
The Nigerian senate has set up an inquiry into the deaths of civilians at the weekend, in a clash between the army and a Shia sect in the town of Zaria.
The army said it was carrying out its own investigations into the killings, in the face of protests by Shia Muslims around Nigeria and demands from human rights organisations for an independent inquiry.
Chidi Odinkalu of the National Human Rights Commission called the attacks in Kaduna state a massacre. There were sharply conflicting accounts of the sequence of events and the death toll, with Shia leaders claiming hundreds had been killed.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, is reported to have called his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari, to tell him he expects the Nigerian government to compensate bereaved families and injured victims, according to Iran state television. Iran, seen as the leading voice for Shias, summoned Nigeria’s ambassador to the foreign ministry in Tehran, to explain the incident.
The origins of the clash appear to have been a demonstration on Saturday by hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), on a major road near Zaria, blocking the motorcade of the Nigerian chief of army staff, Gen Tukur Buratai.
The army claimed the general’s vehicle had been attacked by a petrol bomb, and that the military convoy had come under fire. Shia community leaders have denied Buratai was attacked.
The army said it subsequently raided the compound of the IMN leader, Ibraheem Zakzaky, and admitted there had been casualties. An army spokesman, Col Sani Usman, said there had been “loss of lives as a result of the Shia group members blocking roads and not allowing other passersby to go about their lawful businesses and activities”.
He added that “as soon as order is restored … the police will conduct an inquiry and the public will be informed.”
Usman called the incident unfortunate, adding: “It is important to note that over the years this group has subjected ordinary citizens using public roads to untold hardship, delays, threats and disruption simply because they insist on using public space irrespective of inconvenience and hardship on other law abiding citizens and motorists. This cannot be tolerated and must stop.”
Zakzaky was reportedly injured but his whereabouts were unknown on Wednesday. There were also reports that his wife and one of his sons had been killed, while a number of buildings linked to the sect had been demolished.
The senate met in a closed door session on Wednesday and set up an ad-hoc committee to look into the killings. “An impartial investigation is urgently needed into these killings,” Amnesty International’s Nigeria director, MK Ibrahim, said.
“Whilst the final death toll is unclear, there is no doubt that there has been a substantial loss of life at the hands of the military. Anyone responsible for unlawful killings should be brought to justice.
“Those in detention must be granted access to medical care as a matter of urgency and either charged with a recognisable criminal offence or released.”
There is a long history of clashes between the Nigerian armed forces and the IMN. Last year, 34 of its followers were killed, including two of Zakzaky’s sons, in another incident, which also began with activists blocking a major road, according to the army.