Shia Muslims protest Nigeria Zaria killing
Shia Muslims march on the highway to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Ashura religious ceremony on 27 November in the village of Dakasoye, northern Nigeria getty images

Thousands of Shia Muslims have taken to the streets of several cities in northern Nigeria to protest against the killings that occurred in Zaria, Kaduna state, on 12 and 13 December. Protests started in the aftermath of a raid at the house of Ibrahim Zakzaky, head of the Islamic Movement In Nigeria (IMN), that resulted in the death of several people.

What is the Islamic Movement In Nigeria?

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is a religious and political organisation that aims to create an Islamic state through an Islamic revolution like the one that occurred in Iran in 1979.

Both Shia and Sunni Muslims are part of the movement, led by Ibrahim Zakzaky. IMN members often hold processions, mainly in Zaria, to raise awareness of their movement, which also advocates the liberation of the Palestinian territories controlled by Israel.

Both sides have accused each other of instigating the violence and have not yet confirmed the death toll. The army alleged members of the sect tried to kill the chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai. IMN denied the allegations and accused the police of attacking and killing hundreds of unarmed people.

The Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Zaria said that at least 60 bodies had been deposited at the hospital, The Premium Times reported.

Protests are ongoing in at least six cities in northern Nigeria. Businesses have closed in the town of Kaduna, one of the worst-affected by the demonstrations.

Rallies have intensified after a picture allegedly showing Zakzaky lying on the floor with his face covered in blood was largely shared on social media. Some reports have alleged that three people were killed on 16 December during clashes between security officers and the IMN in the local government area of Tudun Wada.

IMN initially alleged that Zakzaky's son and wife were killed in the raid, while the leader's whereabouts were unknown. IMN later confirmed Zakzaky's wife Malam Zeenat Ibrahim was alive and in custody with her husband.

Iran condemns killings

The senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, blamed the Nigerian military for the killings, while the the Nigerian government confirmed the arrest of Zakzaky.

Defence spokesman Rabe Abubakar declined to comment on the death toll. He told IBTimes UK: "It is an unfortunate incident. People should behave in a different manner and respect everyone's rights."

Meanwhile, Iran urged Nigeria to protect Shia Muslims and condemned the attack. According to Iran media, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani called his counterpart in Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, over the killings.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Tehran was "adopting measures" to provide assistance to Nigeria's Shia Muslims.

Amnesty International has called for an urgent investigation on the substantial loss of life. Amnesty's Nigeria Director M K Ibrahim said the killings occurred "at the hands of the military".

The group said in a statement: "It is unclear if Ibrahim Zakzaky has access to a lawyer. Reports suggest that the dead and injured were taken to the military hospital and to the university teaching hospital.

"Nigerian security forces have a history of carrying out unlawful killings and other human rights violations. In the course of security operations against Boko Haram, Nigerian military forces have committed serious human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity in north-east Nigeria."

This is not the first time the Nigerian army has been accused of opening fire on IMN members. In July 2014, at least 34 members of the sect – including three of Zakzaky's sons – were killed by the army in the aftermath of a pro-Palestinian protest in Zaria. The incident sparked international outrage and prompted a probe by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) on the role of the army during the killings.

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