Amnesty accuses Nigeria forces of 'horrific' Shia killings
Human rights campaigners accused Nigeria's security forces of killing dozens by using "horrific" force during a crackdown on protesting supporters of an imprisoned Shia cleric, reports confirmed on Wednesday.
Amnesty International said it had "strong evidence" that police and soldiers used automatic weapons against members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) at marches in and around Abuja.
The group said upwards of 45 people were killed - six on Saturday and at least 39 on Monday, when some 122 were also injured.
The IMN itself said it had counted 49 dead. The military's official death toll is six.
"We have seen a shocking and unconscionable use of deadly force by soldiers and police against IMN members," said Amnesty's Nigeria director, Osai Ojigho.
"Video footage and eyewitness testimonies consistently show that the Nigerian military dispersed peaceful gatherings by firing live ammunition without warning," she added.
"Those injured were shot in different parts of the body - head, neck, back, chest, shoulder, legs, arms --and some of them had multiple gunshot wounds."
Ojigho said the "horrific use of excessive force" was not crowd control but aimed to kill, calling for an independent probe and the prosecution of those responsible.
Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, is almost evenly split between a mostly Muslim north - which is predominantly Sunni - and a largely Christian south.
Experts have warned the government that a heavy-handed response to the group risks sparking conflict in a volatile region where poverty is widespread.
The December 2015 clashes that led to Zakzaky's detention saw the army kill more than 300 of his supporters, who were buried in mass graves, according to human rights groups.
Amnesty said it appeared a similar strategy appeared to have been employed against the IMN in the latest protests.
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 only been seen in public twice since he was detained.
Nigeria's government has previously ignored a court order to release Zakzaky and his wife.
Monday’s Abuja protests were organised during a peak period for Shia’s around the world marking the annual Arbaeen commemoration.
Millions of Shia Muslims from around the world are making their way this week to holy shrines in the Iraqi city of Karbala, a pilgrimage that is as much about community as it is about religion.
The shrines are of the revered Shia imam, Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his half-brother Abbas.
The pilgrimage, known in Arabic as the Ziyara, marks the 40th day of mourning of the anniversary of Hussein's 7th century death at the hands of the Muslim Umayyad forces in the Battle of Karbala, during the tumultuous first century of Islam's history.
Hussein was seen by his followers as the rightful heir of the prophet's legacy. When he refused to pledge allegiance to the Umayyad caliphate, he was killed in the battle, cementing the schism between Sunni and Shia Islam.
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