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Nigerian military defends attack on Shiite marchers

The Nigerian military has responded to charges of unjustifiably killing Shiite protesters on the outskirts of the capital Abuja, with senior officials defending the military's actions. 

In their response they cite US President Donald Trump’s remarks regarding migrants heading towards the American border, stating,

“They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back”.

Footage released by the New York Times however reveals that the soldiers were unprovoked and fired indiscriminately at unarmed demonstrators, many of whom were trying to flee. This contradicts the military’s claims they had employed violence justly.

The New York Times also shows that the death toll was far higher that the military claimed. The military asserted that 10 soldiers were greatly injured and only 6 died, however photography and video evidence shows at least 26 dead bodies. The group who released the footage claimed 49 people were killed during the four days of protest. The military has refuted this evidence with Brigader General John Agim, spokesman for the Nigerian military, going so far as to say that the footage released was doctored, describing it as “stage managed”. This has led to widespread international condemnation from groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The protesters belong to the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, an organisation established almost forty years ago and inspired by the Iranian revolution. They have barred from assembling in the city of Kaduna where most of the members live.

In 2015, soldiers opened fire on an group of Shiite Muslims who assembled to celebrate a religious ceremony. Nearly 350 people were killed and the leader of the group imprisoned. Many of the people who marched on October 29th were demanding the leader be release from prison. The group has also invoked controversy by claiming that the Nigerian constitution does not apply to them as it does not protect them.

President Muhammadu Buhari came to office with the promise of cracking down on military impunity as the security force had kidnapped children; raped women in detention camps; and, executed masses of civilians. He faces a general election in February, his critics assert he has not been able to hold the military to account. He himself is a Sunni Muslim.

Despite the on-going human rights abuses the Trump administration has strengthened ties marking a departure from the previous administration. In 2018 President Trump allowed the sale of war planes and other equipment that previously been blocked.

See more from the New York Times here.