Human Rights Watch has said the Nigerian army attacked Shiite Muslims without justification. The report contradicts the government's assertion that the attack was in retaliation for an attempted assassination.
The Nigerian army killed hundreds of unarmed Shiite Muslims without provocation, according to a report published on Tuesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The military said it had fired on members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a sect with close ties to Iran after they had set up a makeshift roadblock and attempted to assassinate the army's chief of staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai. But HRW disputes this account.
"The Nigerian military's version of events does not stack up," the organization's Africa director, Daniel Bekele, said in the report. "It is almost impossible to see how a roadblock by angry young men could justify the killings of hundreds of people. At best it was a brutal overreaction and at worst it was a planned attack on the minority [Shiite] group."
Reports of indiscriminate killing
HRW interviewed 16 witnesses to the raids that occurred from December 12 to 14 in retaliation for the alleged assassination attempt. According to several of the witnesses, the army at one point fired on random civilians as they left the mosque near where the roadblock had been set up. Some of those victims were children.
At least 300 Shiites were killed over the two days the army carried out its attacks, the report said. While some of those people did throw stones at the soldiers, the report found no credible evidence to suggest the army's brutal reaction was justified.
Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of IMN, has been a proponent of Shia Islam in Nigeria ever since returning to Nigeria from Iran in the early 1980s. There have been frequent clashes between Shiites and Sunnis over the past several decades, and many members of Zakzaky's sect face discrimination.