Shia group says Nigeria security forces killed scores in protests

IMN says security forces opened fire on its members calling for the release of their leader, as 400 are arrested.

    Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of Shia group IMN, has been in prison since 2015 [Reuters]
    Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of Shia group IMN, has been in prison since 2015 [Reuters]

    A jailed Nigerian Shia leader's movement said security forces had killed at least 42 of its members during two days of violent crackdowns on protests in the capital, Abuja.

    The Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said on Wednesday that security forces opened fire with live ammunition on members who had marched in the hundreds to demand the release of their leader Ibrahim Zakzaky.

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    The number of people killed since Saturday in the protests hit at least 48, according to the IMN, contrasting with the military's official death toll of six.

    Clashes erupted between soldiers and IMN supporters in Abuja on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, said Ibrahim Musa, according to an IMN spokesman.

    IMN counted at least six bodies on Saturday and 35 bodies on Monday, while seven people were killed on Tuesday, Ibrahim Musa said.

    Authorities said that 400 IMN members were detained, waiting to be arraigned in court on Wednesday.

    They are likely to be charged for inciting violence and carrying dangerous weapons, according to Abuja police commissioner Bala Ciroma.

    Leader in prison since 2015

    Zakzaky has been jailed since 2015 when the army killed hundreds of his followers at his compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground.

    He was charged in April this year with murder over the 2015 violence after being held for more than two years. Authorities ignored a court ruling during the period before he was charged, ordering him to be released, sparking protests from his followers.

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    IMN protests have frequently been met with force.

    In April, police fired bullets and tear gas during days of protests by IMN, wounding at least four protesters.

    President Muhammadu Buhari has in the past accused the Shia Muslims of creating "a state within a state", though he acknowledged civilian deaths could not be justified.

    Since then, however, the government has remained largely silent on accusations it has used excessive force against the group.

    Around half of Nigeria's 190 million people are Muslims.

    Although virtually all of them are Sunnis, Zakzaky has attracted an estimated three million followers as a preacher of Shia Islam since being drawn to that sect by the 1979 revolution in Iran.

    SOURCE: News agencies