Nigeria police arrest dozens from banned Shia group

Police in Nigeria say they have arrested 57 members of the banned Shia group, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, during protests in the capital, Abuja.

Hundreds of members of the group had marched through some of the city’s major streets to mark the killing of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

A spokesperson for the Shia group told the BBC that a combined team of police and military officers had opened fire on the march, killing at least eight people and wounding 11 others.

Police spokesperson Josephine Adeh denied reports of casualties, saying security personnel only used teargas and not live bullets.

But she told the BBC that 57 protesters, including women, were arrested for holding the protests without permission, blocking highways and carrying weapons.

The group says its procession was peaceful.

Members of the Shia group have frequently clashed with security forces in recent years during various demonstrations.

Rights groups said more than 300 members of the group were killed during a military crackdown in 2015 in the northern city of Zaria when the authorities accused them of blocking a major highway on which the convoy of Nigeria’s then army chief was travelling.

The leader of the group, Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, and his wife were arrested and detained in the wake of that violence.

They were released last July after a high court acquitted them of charges relating to inciting violence and unlawful assembly.

Nigeria’s government has taken the controversial decision to ban a pro-Iranian Shia group, accusing it of unleashing violence and being an “enemy of the state”.

The Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) is challenging the ban, arguing that it is a peaceful movement which has, in fact, borne the brunt of state-orchestrated violence.

These developments have raised fears of oil-rich Nigeria becoming the latest battleground in the conflict between the world’s two main Muslim sects, Shia and Sunni.

On Monday, a court in Kaduna in northern Nigeria, ruled that the group’s founder and leader Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky – who has been in police detention since 2015 – should be allowed to travel to India to receive medical treatment. He has been suffering minor strokes and is reported to be losing his sight.

Formed about four decades ago, it advocates the creation of an Iranian-style Islamic state in Nigeria. -BBC

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