Islamic Movement claims 18 killed by Nigerian military; whereabouts of prominent Shia leader unknown
UPDATES WITH MOVEMENT’S CLAIM OF 18 DEATHS, WHEREABOUTS OF LEADER UNKOWN
LAGOS, Nigeria – The Nigerian military has killed at least two people, including a senior Shia cleric, a day after it killed six other people, eyewitnesses and military sources told Anadolu Agency on Sunday.
The Nigerian army had accused the country’s Islamic Movement, led by Shia cleric Ibrahim el-Zakyzaky, of an assassination attempt on army chief Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai in Kaduna state’s Zaria city on Saturday.
Since then there have been clashes between armed followers of Zakyzaky and the military.
However, the Nigerian army said in a brief statement late on Sunday only that there had been a “loss of lives” and did not comment on the number of the dead or the identities of those killed.
The army did not comment on Zakyzaky’s status.
Ibrahim Musa, president of the media forum of the Islamic Movement, produced a statement on Sunday claiming that at least 18 people had been killed in a siege of the group’s headquarters.
Musa added that a number of “leading” figures were among the dead, but would not be drawn on Zakyzaky’s whereabouts.
-Heavy gun battles since Saturday
Eyewitnesses said that senior Shia cleric Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud Turi was killed at the home of Zakyzaky early on Sunday morning.
Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, a senior journalist and resident in the north, said Sunday:
“The news has just filtered in that the altercation in Zaria, which started yesterday, has recorded its major victim yet. Mallam Muhammad Turi is reported killed in front of Sheikh Zakyzaky’s residence in Gyellesu, Zaria, this morning.”
“Sheikh Turi was not just an ordinary Shiite cleric. He was an influential member of the inner cycle, seen as a possible heir to Zakyzaky,” Abdulaziz added.
Harun el-Binawi, a public affairs commentator and member of the Shia movement, also told Anadolu Agency that the Nigerian military had killed the cleric.
A national spokesman for the Islamic Movement, Ibrahim Usman, has also been killed, Ahmad Saqofa, the movement’s spokesman in Kano, said.
“Usman and Sheikh Turi were among the many brothers killed by the army,” Saqofa told Anadolu Agency by phone.
The Nigerian military did not officially respond to queries about the killings. However, a military source confirmed to Anadolu Agency the cleric’s killing at the hands of the army.
Residents in Zaria city’s Shia-majority areas of Gyellesu and Tundun Wada told Anadolu Agency there had been heavy gunfights since Saturday between soldiers and armed followers of the cleric.
Hamid Abubakar, a resident of the area, spoke to Anadolu Agency by phone:
“We did not sleep overnight. As we speak, there is still a gunfight [taking place] between the soldiers and members of Shia. Troops have cordoned off the residence of Sheikh Zakyzaky. There are dead bodies around.”
Troops were said to be attempting to arrest the main leader of the movement.
Nadeerah Mahmoud, another resident, used social media to say that troops were moving in to “capture” the Shia leader.
“Soldiers are on a mission to capture the Shia leader; we are caught between gunshots and bomb blasts. Pray for Zaria,” Mahmoud tweeted.
“Heavy gunshots and demolition in Gyellesu Zaria as Nigerian army tries to capture Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakyzaky,” she added.
The Islamic Movement of Nigeria has denied that it attempted to kill the army chief and instead blamed the army for invading its Hussainiyah headquarters in Zaria.
There are unconfirmed reports suggesting that Zakyzaky has been captured and his house has been set ablaze by Nigerian military; however, the information has yet to be verified.
The movement’s official website was also shut down, allegedly by the Nigerian authorities.
Zakyzaky came to prominence in the early 1980s. He is known to have had several run-ins with the Nigerian authorities in the past. During the regime of the late Nigerian dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, he was held behind bars for two years.
There have been other attacks on the Shia community in the recent past in Nigeria.
Last year, at least 33 Shia Muslims were gunned down by soldiers in Zaria during an encounter, after which both sides gave contradictory accounts.
Earlier this month, dozens died in a suicide attack on a Shia procession near northwestern Kano city. Shia spokespersons later claimed that the attack had been masterminded by the army.
According to estimates, Nigeria’s population is around 170 million, out of which 85 million are said to be Muslims. Shia Muslims are said to constitute less than five percent of the total Muslim population, who are mostly found in the northwestern states of Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto.