The Nigerian Army has been accused of burying the bodies of hundreds of victims of an alleged military massacre of Shiite Muslims to hide the death toll, according to the Shiite Islamic Movement in Nigeria.
The allegation comes as human rights advocates and the United States calls for an investigation following the army’s raid on Nigerian Shiites in which hundreds of people were reportedly killed and Shiite leader Ibraheem Zakzaky suffered four bullet wounds.
Shiite spokesman Ebrahim Musa said soldiers took the bodies from the mortuary of Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital and buried them in mass graves on Wednesday. His statement did not explain how he got the information.
“The Nigerian army has desecrated our dead,” Musa said. “We hereby demand the location of the mass burial, and the interrogation of those who ordered the operation.”
Human rights groups say as many as 1,000 people may have been killed.
Senator Shehu Sani, a human rights activist, said “The Zaria killings simply affirmed the fact that as a nation we have not learnt our lessons from our painful and hard experience.
“The United States calls on the government of Nigeria to quickly, credibly, and transparently investigate these events in Zaria and hold to account any individuals found to have committed crimes,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
“It is essential that all sides refrain from actions that further destabilise the situation,” US Ambassador James Entwhistle added.
Amnesty International said in a statement that the shooting of members of the Shiite group in Zaria “must be urgently investigated ... and anyone found responsible for unlawful killings must be brought to justice.”
“Whilst the final death toll is unclear, there is no doubt that there has been a substantial loss of life at the hands of the military,” said M.K. Ibrahim, director of Amnesty International, Nigeria.
But the Shiite movement, which has millions of followers in Nigeria, rejected the investigative panel it said has been set up following a visit to Zaria on Tuesday by Interior Minister Abdul Rahman Dambazau.
Musa said it has no confidence in a panel led by the area police commander because he is junior in rank to the alleged perpetrators of the killings.
It said Dambazau, a retired general, did not even bother to visit wounded victims in the hospital.
In addition to Wednesday’s alleged mass burial, Musa said soldiers on Monday carried away about 200 bodies from around the home of Zakzaky, and did not deposit them at the hospital mortuary.
In a statement on Monday, the army said both the military and Shiites lost lives but a toll still is being compiled.
The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria said it set up a special investigations panel following complaints filed by concerned citizens and from the military, which has asked the commission to investigate the alleged assassination attempt on the army chief.
The commission’s chairman, Chidi Odinkalu, called the army attacks “a massacre.” He said one of Zakzaky’s wives was killed. Two of Zakzaky’s sons also were killed and one was wounded, according to Musa.
Hundreds of Shiites protested in front of the Nigerian embassies in the Iranian and Indian capitals on Tuesday.
Nigeria’s Shiites, a movement of millions started 37 years ago by Zakzaky, who dresses in the robes and turban of an Iranian ayatollah, often have clashed with police and other security forces over their unlawful blocking of major roads to hold religious processions.
“The action of the military is untenable, intolerable and unacceptable ... and a step toward tyranny.”
The Shiites two weeks ago suffered a suicide bombing in a procession that killed 22 people. Boko Haram, a Salafist group, claimed responsibility for the attack and threatened to “wipe out” the Shiites, according to members.
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