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Nigeria army killed unarmed Shia kids: Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Nigerian army slew Shia children earlier in the month, opening fire on the unarmed youngsters with no provocation.

The New York-based rights body said the instance of bloodshed was one among the several committed against the country’s Shia community in mid-December.

The killing of the children was followed by another incident, in which Nigerian forces killed as many as 1,000 Shias in raids on three Shia centers in the northern Nigerian city of Zaria from December 12 to 14.

The HRW also expressed disbelief at the army’s explanation for the three-day-long massacre. The army says it carried out the raids after Shias set up roadblocks during a religious ceremony three days earlier, stopped the convoy of Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai and attempted to assassinate him.

The army’s version “just doesn’t stack up,” Daniel Bekele, the New York-based rights group’s Africa director, said on Wednesday, adding, “It is almost impossible to see how a roadblock… 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 Shia group,” he said.

The Shias have categorically denied the accusations of fully blocking roads and attempting to assassinate Buratai. On Sunday, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN)’s spokesman, Ibrahim Usman, rejected the accusation that the Shias had brought about “complete occupation of a lane for four days.”

“That was not the case. Blocks were only from junction to junction on the roads. The public was informed about these little inconveniences with apologies on public radio and television stations throughout the trek. Road users during the period would be surprised by” such claims, he said.

“Clearly, this is a deliberate attempt to twist the facts,” Usman said, noting that during such ceremonies, “we block only [a] limited part of the road, and this is to protect persons from traffic accidents, control mass movement, and avoid chaos on the roads.”

The IMN said on Tuesday that people wounded in the attacks are dying in military and police detention because they are being denied medical care.

A day after the ceremony, which saw Nigerian troops opening fire on the participants, forces raided the house of the country’s Shia leader Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, who heads the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), arresting him after reportedly killing individuals attempting to protect him, including one of the movement’s senior leaders and its spokesman.

Zakzaky suffered four bullet wounds during the attack, which also saw the detention of scores of others.

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