SaharaReporters has received exclusive photos that expose how Nigerian soldiers ruthlessly destroyed places of worship and homes belonging to members of the Shiite Muslim community and their leader, Sheik Ibrahim Zakzaky, in Zaria, Kaduna State. The military’s wrecking attack happened after Nigerian soldiers had massacred a yet to be determined number of Shiite Muslims protesting in Zaria.
One human rights activist in Zaria alleged that, between December 12th and the 14th 2015, Nigerian troops engaged in a systematic assault against Shiites in Zaria, massacring tons of them and damaging their property. The soldiers hunted down the sect’s leader, Sheik Zakzaky, who had fled to his residence for fear of his life. Earlier, SaharaReporters had obtained a recorded phone conversation in which Sheik Zakzaky told an unidentified Iranian official about the gunfire around his residence and the military’s attempt to abduct him.
When the Nigerian military captured the sheik, they kept incommunicado at a military facility within Kaduna State, denying him access to legal counsel and members of his family. One of the sheik’s sons told SaharaReporters that it was unclear whether his missing siblings were dead, alive, or in detention.
Sheik Zakzaky has been reportedly handed over to the Nigerian police after being held unlawfully in military detention for more than one week.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), Shiite members and other civil society organizations have reported that at least 300 Shiites perished in the military attack, but an exact casualty count has not been made. Part of the reason is that the military buried many of the victims in mass graves.
According to Human Rights Watch, “it is almost impossible to see how a roadblock by angry young men could justify the killings of hundreds of people. At best it was a brutal overreaction and at worst it was a planned attack on the minority Shia group.”
The military has justified their brutal attack by claiming that the Shiite protesters had planned to assassinate Army Chief of Staff, General Tukur Buratai.
The photos obtained by SaharaReporters capture the widespread destruction of Shiite homes and sites. They also suggest that the military specifically targeted personal property belonging to Sheik Zakzaky.
“You will see that a social club recently purchased by Sheik Zakzaky is one of the structures the military targeted for utter destruction,” one Shiite spokesman told SaharaReporters.
The same source also alleged that the military exhumed the bodies of three of Sheik Zakzaky’s brothers from their graves, and took away their remains to an unknown location.
Another source claimed that the soldiers targeted the tomb of Sheik Zakzaky’s grandmother, with the intent of exhuming her remains as well.
Earlier this week, Nigerian human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, called for the prosecution of General Staff Buratai, for his role in the massacre.
One Shiite member told SaharaReporters that the army’s operation “showed there was a clear attempt by the military to wipe out our sect once and for all,” adding, “The military is now trying hard to cover up their crimes.”