Members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a peaceful group of Shiite Muslims throughout Nigeria, reported being intimidated and harassed by Nigerian army soldiers and police officers today in Katsina State. IMN and Shiite followers joined together in a peaceful procession to memorialize the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed, which they do annually.
An official statement from IMN, signed by the president of the IMN Media Forum Ibrahim Musa, expressed fear that intimidation by the security agencies could result in violence directed toward the group.
According to the statement, “reports from Katsina today have indicated that the Nigerian army is amassing troops in an attempt at a clampdown on the Islamic Movement in the town.”
Mr. Musa added, “early in the morning armed troops were seen surrounding the main Juma’at mosque, where a peaceful maulud procession of the daughter of the Prophet, Nana Fatima (AS) was scheduled to take off.”
It will be recalled that in December the Nigerian army brutalized and massacred at least 300 Shiites in a three-day rampage. SaharaReporters reported that unarmed IMN members, who had been blocking traffic, were accused of trying to assassinate the Chief of Defense Staff TY Buratai, and were summarily massacred at the scene. Footage exclusively obtained by SaharaReporters showed how the military had dumped the bodies of some dead into the street who then had their pockets picked by nearby looters.
The military then continued using force against the small IMN sect for several more days including hunting down the leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, assaulting him, plopping him into a wheelbarrow, and keeping him in secret detention. The military also killed several members of Mr. Zakzaky’s family, burned down some of his businesses, and destroyed his home and religious sites of importance to the Shiite community. The IMN still demands the release of Mr. Zakzaky who is reportedly under medical treatment from injuries received by the military.
Mr. Musa’s statement noted that this procession “is a yearly event that has been going on in several cities across the Nation for decades without any incident.” He added that the IMN are “amazed at what happened to our fundamental constitutional right to peaceful assembly and practice of religion.”
SaharaReporters spoke with a worshipper who partook on the procession and observed the heavy security presence. Speaking with our correspondent anonymously he described the day’s scenes.
He said “we arrived at Central mosque [in Katsina State] but was soon surrounded by police and army men. The men told us that we needed to leave the area, that we could not enter the mosque.”
When asked whether the army gave an explanation to IMN members the source said, “no they did not tell us anything just that we were not welcome.”
According to sources in attendance at the procession, the military confiscated property belonging to the worshippers. “They took our banner, plaques of our group, posters of our Shiite leaders” and other things belonging to the group.
One source speaking to our correspondent said “it was wrong for them to take that property. Totally and completely wrong. There was nothing criminal there, nothing harmful.”
Subsequent statements by the group have underscored their mistrust of security agencies and State government, in particular the Governor of Katsina State Bello Masari. They also reiterate their demand that Mr. Zakzaky, who remains in detention, be released.