Nigerian police said they arrested dozens of Shia Muslim followers of an outlawed group at a religious procession in the nation’s capital with a spokesperson of the group claiming eight members were shot dead during the gathering.
Abuja police denied any casualties occurred when the group, marking the religious ritual of Arbaeen, was dispersed on Tuesday
Police said they intervened to stop members of the banned Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) as they had been causing “unnecessary hardship to motorists” along the Abuja-Kubwa expressway, adding that 57 people were arrested after IMN members attacked the police with petrol bombs and stones.
“The miscreants who were found in their numbers were promptly intercepted by the security operatives and dispersed to prevent them from causing further disruption of public order,” the police statement said.
However, Abdullahi Muhamed, an IMN member, told the Reuters news agency that participants were walking peacefully along the expressway when a team of police and soldiers fired tear gas and live ammunition at them.
IMN spokesman, Ibrahim Musa, said security forces shot and wounded protesters.
“We were almost rounding up the procession when the police and army came and started shooting,” he said.
The IMN, a pro-Iranian group that was outlawed in 2019 for protests against the arrest of their leader Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, has clashed with Nigerian security forces for years and often marches in Abuja.
The army killed 350 IMN Shia Muslims during a religious procession in northern Nigeria in December 2015. According to rights groups, many were gunned down and burned alive.
IMN leader el-Zakzaky and his wife, who have been in custody since 2015, were freed last month after a court acquitted them of murder charges involving the death of a soldier.
But the religious leader still faces terrorism and treasonable offences charges, according to prosecutors.
Muslims make up about half of Nigeria’s population of 200 million. The overwhelming majority of them are Sunni. The Shia Muslim minority have long complained of discrimination and repression.