Clashes in Nigeria between security forces and Shia protesters

Supporters of jailed pro-Iranian cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky were marching in Abuja to call for the release of their leader.

    Nigerian forces block a road as IMN members march on the outskirts of Abuja [Abraham Achirga/Reuters]
    Nigerian forces block a road as IMN members march on the outskirts of Abuja [Abraham Achirga/Reuters]

    Clashes have erupted in Nigeria between security forces and the supporters of an imprisoned Shia cleric marching in the capital, Abuja.

    The army and police confronted hundreds of members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the group's spokesman Ibrahim Musa told AFP news agency on Monday, amid reports of casualties.

    A witness told Reuters news agency that the military shot at the protesters who were demanding the release of Ibrahim Zakzaky, a pro-Iranian cleric.

    "The security agents attacked members of the IMN when they were in the procession coming into Abuja," Musa told AFP.

    "People were killed definitely," said Musa, who was not at the procession and could not give a death toll.

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    "We don't carry arms on our procession, we don't block roads ... the security agents have decided to shed our blood," he added.

    The group says Zakzaky must be freed after a court ruled his detention without charge illegal.

    On Saturday, the military shot dead three Shia followers during a similar confrontation on the outskirts of Abuja.

    According to the army, soldiers transporting weapons and ammunition were "attacked" by group’s members - an account the IMN "categorically refutes".

    The group members had established an "illegal roadblock denying motorists free passage" and when the military tried to clear the barrier they were met with "stiff opposition", army spokesperson James Myam said in a statement on Sunday.

    Soldiers opened fire on the IMN members after they "pelted the troops with stones" and attempted to "cart away the ammunition and missiles the troops were escorting", the statement added.

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    Zakzaky has been jailed since December 2015 when security forces killed hundreds of members of his group in a crackdown on the group.

    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 army strongly denies.

    The cleric, who lost an eye and was left partially paralysed in the violence, has been at loggerheads with authorities for years because of his call for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution.

    Northern Nigeria is majority Sunni Muslim.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies