A week after members of a Shiite Islamic sect accused Nigerian soldiersof murdering more than 30 of their members, including three sons of the sect’s leader, the Nigerian military has finally broken its silence.

Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky In a statement released by Nigeria’s Defense Headquarters in Abuja, signed by Major General Chris Olukolade, the Nigerian military said they had remained silent for days as part of a “need to calm the situation in Zaria city after the recent encounter between soldiers on routine patrol and members of Shiite Islamic sect in Zaria last Friday.”

Members of the sect had claimed that soldiers launched an unprovoked attack on their members who were peacefully marching to express solidarity with the Palestinian people currently facing bombardment by Israeli troops. The sect said the soldiers killed one son of Sheik Zakzaky, the sect’s spiritual leader, and killed two other sons after arresting and detaining them. In addition, the sect said the soldiers had killed several women, including a nursing mother and her baby.

General Olukolade’s statement said that the military authorities did not downplay “the significance of [the] incident,” but added, “it was also necessary to ensure that sufficient information was obtained beginning from the unit level and other reliable sources at the location.”

The military spokesman disclosed that Defense officials had initiated a preliminary investigation “to unravel the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate incident.” According to him, the military’s investigation was going on at the Divisional level.

The military however denied the sect’s allegation that soldiers had engaged in extra-judicial killing. “Although the report of the preliminary investigation at the unit level has vehemently contradicted some of the issues raised by the leader of the group, in his statement, especially on the allegation of extra judicial killings, the higher Headquarters is conducting additional investigation on the incident to ascertain the claims in the preliminary reports from the unit level,” the military asserted in its statement. 

The statement added, “In spite of the preliminary findings, the importance placed on the respect for Human Rights in all military operations, activities and interactions, has prompted the additional steps presently being taken to ascertain the true situation.

“Accordingly, the higher level of military enquiry is with a view to unmasking the remote and immediate causes of the incident and to identify anyone found culpable.  Meanwhile, those apprehended during the incident are being interrogated.”

The military statement expressed deepcommiseration “with the families of those that lost their lives in that unfortunate incident, especially the leader of the group who was reported to have lost his sons.”

It added that Sheik Zakzaky’s “present disposition is understandable as it is pathetic.” The statement promised, “No effort will be spared to ensure necessary justice on this matter.”

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