Nigerian Soldiers Withdraw After Surrounding Shiite Gathering

Nigerian Soldiers Withdraw After Surrounding Shiite Gathering

Nigerian soldiers and police have withdrawn from their positions at Zango Road, Kaduna, where they surrounded a gathering of Shi’a Muslims on Tuesday, days after the government outlawed the group.

Shi’a members who were trapped inside a compound have also dispersed, a witness told PREMIUM TIMES late Tuesday.

He said there were no clashes, and no one was arrested.

“Everywhere is calm now. The security people ensured there was no trouble,” a witness said.

Worshippers had gathered to commemorate historical events associated with the Islamic month of Muharram that are particularly significant in the Shia calendar, UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, said earlier Tuesday in a statement.

“Shortly before the Kaduna Markaz mosque on Zango Road was encircled by armoured military vehicles carrying heavily armed soldiers and also an ambulance were among a convoy of 18 military vehicles seen nearby,” the group said.

It called on the Nigerian government to withdraw the soldiers and allow the worshippers to continue to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and worship.

A witness told PREMIUM TIMES that the standoff was at the residence of a senior Shi’a leader, Muhtar Sahabi, and not a Mosque.

He said dozens of armed soldiers and mobile police officers surrounded the compound and were waiting for those gathered inside to leave.

He said some women and children who started coming out were sent back by the soldiers.

The confrontation followed a spate of arrests over recent days of members of the Shi’a sect, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, after a state-wide ban on Friday, proscribing membership of the movement.

Our Source at the scene said the situation became tense when a helicopter hovered around the area.

He said soldiers and the anti-riot police withdrew shortly after.

“Members of the Shi’a group also came out of the compound in groups of fours and fives,” the source said.

Routine police patrol and checkpoints around the area however remained in place, he added.

The police spokesperson, Abubakar Zubairu, said Kaduna was calm.

Another official said security was stepped amid concerns that Shiites would hold their annual “Ashura” procession on Tuesday.

Three senior members of the group told PREMIUM TIMES that the procession would go ahead as planned on Wednesday.

Asked of the security implication, one leader said: “We will do our procession. The worst they can do is to kill people”.

The military activity around the area earlier on Tuesday was reminiscent of the run-up to the massacre last December of hundreds of supporters of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria by the army and the arrest of its leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.

Mr. Zakzaky remains in government custody.

Premium Times

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