Nigerian police denied killing members of a banned Shi’ite Muslim group who had gathered in the capital Abuja on Tuesday, saying they had arrested 57 of them and recovered petrol bombs and bags of stones.
Members of the proscribed Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) said earlier that security forces had shot dead eight Shi’ites who were taking part in a procession to mark the religious ritual of Arbaeen.
The Abuja police said they had intervened to stop the IMN members as they had been causing “unnecessary hardship to motorists” along the Abuja-Kubwa expressway.
“The miscreants attacked the security forces with petrol bombs, (and) weapons including stones, but were adequately rounded up by the security teams without any casualty,” the force said in a statement.
The IMN was banned by the government in 2019 after protests against the detention of its leader. Security forces have opened fire at previous IMN events.
Abdullahi Muhamed, an IMN member, earlier told Reuters that participants were walking peacefully along the expressway when a combined team of police and soldiers fired tear gas and live bullets at them.
Videos and images posted on social media and published by Nigerian news websites showed bodies lying on the ground and people running from what appeared to be clouds of tear gas. Reuters could not independently verify the material.
Muslims make up about half of Nigeria’s population of 200 million. The overwhelming majority of them are Sunnis, and the small Shi’ite minority have long complained of discrimination and repression.
The IMN leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, was released from detention after being acquitted in July of eight criminal charges including aiding and abetting homicide, unlawful assembly and disruption of public peace.
Zakzaky and his wife had been in detention since 2015, when they were arrested after a clash in which the army killed an estimated 350 people at an IMN compound and a nearby mosque and burial ground in the northern state of Kaduna.