Nigerian crackdown on Shiite group sparks fears of escalation
ABUJA, Oct 30, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Nigerian police fired shots and tear gas
at thousands of supporters of an imprisoned Shiite cleric in Abuja on
Tuesday, just a day after three people were killed in similar clashes that
sparked warnings to the government that a heavy-handed crackdown could
radicalise the group.
At least six Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) supporters have now been
killed since Saturday during protests calling for the release of Ibrahim
Zakzaky, who has been in custody since December 2015.
Several thousand IMN members were marching peacefully in central Abuja but
then armed police fired into the crowd to disperse the procession, said AFP
reporters at the scene.
At least six injured IMN members were taken away in cars while the area was
patrolled by dozens of police, they added.
“A lot of our people had been injured, so far we don’t have any record of
death,” IMN spokesman Ibrahim Musa told AFP.
Nigeria’s military said three IMN supporters were killed during another
protest on the outskirts of Abuja on Monday.
The army said troops and police “repelled the attack” and that IMN “fired
weapons” and threw stones and Molotov cocktails.
AFP photographs of the aftermath showed several bodies of civilians on the
ground near police but it was unclear whether they were dead or injured.
On Saturday, three other IMN members were killed during protests in Abuja.
The army claimed the protesters attacked a military convoy and tried to
steal weapons and ammunition — an account the IMN “categorically” denies.
IMN spokesman Musa claimed 27 people have been killed since Saturday and
that the death toll could be higher since “scores” of people were injured and
troops took away others.
“We are working towards their release to us for burial,” Musa said.
– Long-running opposition –
Human rights group Amnesty International said on Monday that reports that
troops fired live bullets at protesters were “very disturbing” and would be
unlawful if they were unarmed.
The IMN has staged a series of demonstrations demanding the release of
leader Zakzaky, who has been detained since bloody clashes broke out in the
northern city of Zaria in 2015.
Then, the military was accused of killing more than 300 IMN supporters and
burying them in mass graves.
Zakzaky has been at loggerheads with Nigeria’s secular authorities for
years because of his calls for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution. Northern
Nigeria is majority Sunni Muslim.
The cleric, who is in his mid-sixties and lost the sight in one eye during
the 2015 clashes, has been seen in public only twice since he was detained.
Nigeria’s government has previously ignored a court order to release
Zakzaky and his wife.
In April, at least 115 IMN supporters were arrested during protests in
Abuja during which police used tear gas and water cannon.
IMN processions for the annual Ashura festival have frequently been
flashpoints. In November 2016, at least 10 people were killed when police
opened fire near the northern city of Kano.
– Radicalisation warning –
Sustained clashes and the military’s use of deadly force have raised fears
of a repeat of the 2009 crackdown on the Islamist group Boko Haram in
Then, some 800 people, including Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, were
killed in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, forcing the group underground.
They then re-emerged a more deadly force under Yusuf’s deputy, Abubakar
Shekau. The insurgency since then has killed more than 27,000 people and
displaced more than two million others.
Amaechi Nwokolo, a security analyst at the Roman Institute for
International Studies in Abuja, said: “It appears we are not learning from
our past mistakes.”
He said the security forces had “no right to use that maximum force” on
unarmed protesters, warning that it might “motivate others to radicalise”.
“If we go back to the formative days of Boko Haram, it was the killing of
some innocent people that actually galvanised recruitment. That’s how
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler, was elected
in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram and bring greater security.
But although weakened, Boko Haram has persisted in its attacks. In
addition, there has been a resurgence of violence in the long-running
resources conflict between sedentary farmers and nomadic herders.