Nigerian police on Tuesday fired on members of a banned Shiite group staging religious processions, killing no fewer than 12 people across five states, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) said. The President of IMN Media Forum, Ibrahim Musa, in a statement listed the states where the members were killed during the religious procession as Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Sokoto and Katsina States.
Musa said three of those who died in Bauchi State were killed in Azare town, while the two victims in Sokoto State, fell to the hail of police bullets in Goronyo and Illela, a town on the border with Niger Republic. Several adherents of the sects were also injured in Kaduna. The procession was relatively peaceful in the FCT as a security lockdown put the members of the religious sect at bay.
The Ashura procession is an annual religious ritual carried out by the Shia Islamic sect all over the world on September 10. It marks the day that Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was killed in the Battle of Karbala.
The pro-Iranian group defied a police ban to hold its annual Ashura religious procession, leading to a violent crackdown in several cities, a spokesman said. Founded by Muslim cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky, the IMN has been at loggerheads with the Nigerian authorities, leading to bloody clashes that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent months.
“At least three people were confirmed killed by the police in Kaduna and 10 others injured, some fatally, when thousands of Muslim brothers and sisters trooped out in the early hours of Tuesday commemorating the tragic events of Ashura. “In Bauchi, reports also have it that three persons were killed during the Ashura procession when the police attacked the mourners. “Likewise, three others were killed by the police in Azare, also in Bauchi state. Another three persons were killed by the police in Gombe, Gombe State,” the statement said.
Musa accused the Police of indiscriminately shooting at some of the mourners in Katsina. He also alleged that the assault inflicted bullet injuries on several mourners while one person was killed in Malumfashi. “That the mourning procession ended peacefully in places not attacked by the police is sufficient evidence as to who the instigators of violence are whenever we are carrying out our legitimate religious duties,” Musa said.
For several hours on Tuesday morning, many commuters were stranded on busy Abuja-Keffi Road and AYA-Kubwa Road, which were virtually closed to traffic, after security operatives, set up road blocks. The cordons were to deter the members of the IMN from assembling inside Abuja for their annual Ashura religious procession, which marks the tenth day of the first month in the Islamic calendar.
However, despite the intense security checks and warning by Police that it would consider the planned procession as “a gathering in advancement of terrorism”, the IMN members, collectively known as the Shiites, in defiance, regrouped in Wuse, Abuja and observed their religious procession unmolested. Musa said police fired tear gas to break up processions in the national capital Abuja and in the city of Bauchi.
The police refused to comment on claims when contacted by AFP. On Monday, the police had warned that anybody who joined the procession would be treated as a terrorist. IMN founder Zakzaky and his wife have been in detention since 2015 when his supporters clashed with soldiers in the northern city of Zaria. That bloody encounter left some 350 IMN supporters dead, sparking confrontations with the police and military. The Nigerian government Tuesday, July 30 officially proscribed the Shiites, a few days after a court outlawed the Islamic group whose recently clashes with the police has left many dead.
“In consequence, henceforth, any person engaged or associating, in any manner that could advance the activities of the proscribed Islamic Movement in Nigeria, shall be treated as a terrorist, enemy of the State,” Nigeria’s inspector-general of police Mohammed Adamu said at a press conference in Abuja.
“The import of this is that all forms of procession or protest by IMN is now illegal and thus banned.”
The Shiites Thursday, August 8 dragged the Nigerian Government to court over the proscription, saying the action is a violation of their constitutional rights to worship and freedom of association. They contended that the order was made without jurisdiction and also made against a non-juristic body.