Day after killing six people, Nigerian military has killed a senior Shia cleric in northwestern Nigeria as it hunts down Islamic Movement of Nigeria head
UPDATES WITH MOVEMENT’S WEBSITE DOWN, MOVEMENT SPOKESMAN QUOTE SAYING ‘SEVERAL OTHERS DEAD’
LAGOS, Nigeria – The Nigerian military has killed at least two people, including a senior Shia cleric in northwestern Nigeria’s Kaduna state, a day after it killed six other people from the minority community there, eyewitnesses and military sources told Anadolu Agency Sunday.
Nigerian army had accused the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, led by Shia cleric Ibrahim el-Zakyzaky, of an assassination attempt on army chief Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai in Kaduna’s Zaria city Saturday. Since then there have been clashes between armed followers of Zakyzaky and the military.
Eyewitnesses said that senior Shia cleric Sheikh Muhammad Mahmud Turi was killed at the home of el-Zakyzaky early Sunday morning.
“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 Zakzaky’s residence in Gyellesu, Zaria, this morning,” Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, a senior journalist and resident in the north, said Sunday.
“Sheikh Turi was not just an ordinary Shiite cleric. He was an influential member of the inner cycle, seen as possible heir to Zakzaky,” Abdulaziz said.
Harun el-Binawi, a public affairs commentator and member of the Shia movement, also confirmed to Anadolu Agency that the Nigerian military had killed the cleric.
A national spokesman for the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, 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 about the cleric’s killing at the hands of the army.
Residents in Zaria city’s Shia-majority areas Gyellesu and Tundun Wada told Anadolu Agency there had been heavy gunfights since Saturday between soldiers and armed followers of the cleric.
“We did not sleep overnight. As we speak, there is still gunfight [taking place] between the soldiers and members of Shia. Troops have cordoned off the residence of Sheikh Zakzaky. There are dead bodies around,” Hamid Abubakar, a resident of the area, told Anadolu Agency by phone.
Troops are said to be attempting to arrest the main leader of the movement.
Nadeerah Mahmoud, another resident, said 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 blast. 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 reports suggesting that el-Zakyzaky has been captured and his house has been set ablaze by Nigerian military; however, the information was 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 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 under five percent of the total Muslim population, who are mostly found in the northwestern states of Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto.