Nigerian police fired on members of a banned Shiite group staging religious processions across the country on Tuesday, killing more than 12 people, said the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN).
The pro-Iranian group defied a police ban to hold processions for the Ashura Muslim celebration, leading officers to “brutally attack” demonstrators in several cities, a spokesperson for the group said.
“The Islamic Movement in Nigeria has confirmed the killing of at least a dozen Ashura mourners across the nation during the peaceful Ashura mourning procession,” Ibrahim Musa said in a statement.
The police refused to comment on the claims when contacted by AFP.
On Monday, the police warned that anybody who joined the procession would be treated as a terrorist.
“In Katsina town, many have sustained bullet wounds when the police opened fire… and even attempted to force in on the Islamic centre of the Islamic Movement,” Musa said.
Several members were shot, meaning the death toll could rise, he added.
Musa said police fired tear gas to break up processions in the capital Abuja and in the city of Bauchi.
Saleh Usman Deba, a spokesperson for the IMN in Gombe state, said two members were killed while seven were wounded on the Ashura religious day – celebrated by Muslims to commemorate the death of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
“After finishing our procession, we came under attack by the police who fired teargas and opened fire on our members,” Deba told AFP.
“So far, two people have been killed and seven others injured. Several people have been arrested while the IMN headquarters in Gombe has been sealed,” he said.
Founded by Muslim cleric Ibrahim Zakzaky in the late 1970s and inspired by the Iranian Revolution, the IMN has been at loggerheads with the Nigerian authorities for decades.
IMN founder Zakzaky and his wife have been in detention since 2015 when a religious procession descended into bloodshed after a confrontation with the Nigerian army.
Soldiers killed some 350 IMN supporters, with many gunned down and burnt alive according to rights groups.
Waves of clashes with security forces have claimed hundreds of lives in the last year.