Nigerian troops on Wednesday buried the bodies of hundreds of victims of an alleged military massacre of Shiite Muslims to hide the death toll, the Shiite Islamic Movement in Nigeria said.
The military said it acted after Shiites tried to assassinate Nigeria’s army chief. Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Usman, did not immediately respond to an email late Wednesday requesting comment on the burial charges.
Details of the weekend violence in Zaria have been slow to emerge because the three attacked areas of the northern town have been on lockdown with no one allowed to enter or leave.
Shiite spokesman, Ibrahim 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. “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 late Tuesday 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 had been set up following a visit to Zaria on Tuesday by Interior Minister Abdulrahman Dambazau. Musa said it had 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.
The bloodshed was yet another blow to Africa’s most populous nation, already beset by a six-year-old insurgency waged by Boko Haram, a violent Islamic group which is at odds with the Shiites and others who oppose its extremist vision.
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. The military has said Zakzaky is in its “safe custody