The United Kingdom-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, IHRC, has released a damning report accusing Nigerian soldiers of indiscriminately shooting and killing defenceless members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in Zaria between July 25 and 26.
The report said 34 defenceless members of the group, led by prominent Islamic cleric, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, were murdered in cold blood as they marched through the streets of Zaria, in Kaduna State. More than 100 others were injured, it adds.
The report, compiled from interviews with victims, their families, witnesses, found that contrary to the Nigerian army’s account of the killings, the protesters were peaceful and did not provoke the attacks.
The IHRC fact-finding team, led by its Chair, Massoud Shadjareh, also obtained a video footage of soldiers firing at unarmed civilians at the end of the procession. The report said bystanders were among those killed by the rampaging soldiers.
The IHRC also said that it has unimpeachable evidence to prove that many of those arrested died in military custody, unable to withstand the brutality they were subjected to by the soldiers.
July 25: first day of massacre
The report titled: “Zaria Massacres and the Role of the Military” observed that on July 25, after Friday prayers, followers of Mr. El-Zakzaky embarked on the traditional Al-Quds procession done in support of the Palestinian Cause following the same route it has followed in the last 33 years.
It stated that the procession ended at about 4:30 p.m. and participants were already dispersing after a collective prayer had been said at the meeting point. But due to the number of people that turned out for the procession, the line stretched about three kilometres from the meeting point before soldiers attacked it.
Trouble started after soldiers confronted volunteers managing traffic at the PZ Junction on the criteria they were using to give priority pass to cars. According to the report, the confrontation appeared to be an excuse by the soldiers to start the attack because despite allowing the truck they were in to pass, the soldiers started shooting at protesters indiscriminately.
“This appears to have been a smokescreen for the attacks, because even as they were being given priority passage, the soldiers started shooting at demonstrators from a very close distance. Ishaq Abdullah was shot and bundled into the army vehicle. The soldiers then sped off, went around the block of shops and cut off a large group who were at the tail end of the procession from the main body. They took positions near these shops and started to shoot at the crowd. The volunteers and other non-partisan eye-witnesses stated that the volunteers did not have weapons and did not instigate the violence,” the report noted.
The IHRC said it obtained video footage and images that “clearly show the soldiers walking calmly towards the crowd while shooting at it.”
“There seemed to be no obvious danger to the soldiers as they took no precautions against being attacked. They were not seeking protection behind objects, nor wearing helmets and were walking directly towards the crowd while shooting. Had the crowd posed any danger to them they would not have taken such a casual approach,” the report stated.
According to IHRC, stewards and traffic volunteers approached the shooting soldiers screaming “Allahu Akbar (Allah is great) and Ya Mahdi (O Mahdi) adding that they “placed themselves between the soldiers and the crowd and also to rescue those who were lying injured on the road.”
Many of them were instantly shot for this brave act, the report found.
According to a testimony by the family of 20-year-old student, Ridwan Musa, who was killed in the shooting, he stood between the soldiers and a group of women the soldiers had taken aim at and challenged them as to why they were shooting at unarmed civilians. Mr. Musa was shot in the head and he died immediately.
The report also noted that the indiscriminate nature of the shooting meant that bystanders and non-sect members were also killed and injured.
“Julius Anyanwu, a 68-year-old Christian man, was shot and disembowelled as he sought to know why the soldiers were shooting unarmed civilians. He died before arrival at the hospital. In an adjacent shop, a Christian woman was shot and injured as she sought shelter in the shop she worked in. A number of stray bullets tore through the front of the shop and into her hands and chest. IHRC obtained pictures showing damage done to shops and other property.”
“Bullets pierced metal doors. One physically handicapped victim recounted that she had been in the area begging for food. When the shooting started she dived for cover as she was unable to run away. A soldier approached her, shot her in her good leg and walked away. Her leg had to be amputated.”
All those interviewed said the soldiers did not issue any warnings. They told IHRC that the soldiers shot randomly and indiscriminately at the crowd.
According to the testimony of a farmer who was wounded in the attack, soldiers chased people into his farm and shot at them. He said he saw another soldier who took position in his sugarcane field, shooting those who ran to the field for cover.
Some of those who were arrested and taken to the nearby Basawa Military Barracks said they went through a harrowing four to five-hour ordeal at the hands of the soldiers.
Mr. El-Zakzaky’s three biological sons, Mahmud, Ahmad and Hamid were killed in the attack. A fourth son of the cleric, Ali, was shot in the leg. He survived.
One of those interviewed also explained in detail how the three sons of Mr El-Zakzaky were killed.
Mahmud was a student of Al Mustapha University, Beirut; Ahmad, a Chemical Engineering student of Shenyang University, China; and Hamid, an Aeronautical Engineering student of Xiang University, also in China.
He said soldiers accosted Hamid, Ali, Ahmad and other volunteers at the PZ roundabout. The trio were chanting songs while lying on the ground as the shooting became intense. According to the witness, soldiers did not stop shooting, so Hamid and Ahmad decided to get away but Ali remained on the ground.
Most of those on the ground were already dead or injured. As the soldiers approached, Ali screamed and one of the soldiers shot him in the leg. The narrator said a soldier also pointed his gun at him and was going to shoot, but he grabbed the gun and was wrestling with the armed man when another soldier shot him in the leg.
He and Ali were dragged to the side of the road where they saw Hamid and Ahmad being shot by soldiers. “They were shot twice in the back and once in the leg,” the report said.
While all these were happening, Mahmud had been shot and his body left on the street for volunteers to retrieve.
Ali, Ahmad and Hamid and others that were injured were piled on top of one another in the back of a truck and driven to the Chindit Barracks.
According to the unnamed narrator, during the journey, Hamid pleaded with the soldiers that Ahmad was badly injured and needed immediate medical attention, as he could no longer breathe freely. The narrator told IHRC that Hamid’s entreaties only attracted vicious response from the soldiers as he was kicked and hit with the butt of their AK 47 riffles.
The soldiers were not allowed into the Chindit Barracks so they turned and headed to the Basawa Barracks that was five kilometres away. At the Basawa Barracks, a senior military officer, on seeing how injured the victims were, ordered that they should be put in an ambulance and taken to the Teaching Hospital in Shika, the report said.
But the commander of the unit that arrested them, S.O Oku, a Lieutenant Colonel, stopped the ambulance at the gate of the barracks and ordered that they should be put on the ground. Mr. Oku allegedly asked that the sons of El-Zakzaky identify themselves and he proceeded to separate Ali, Ahmad and Hamid. Soldiers took pictures of the captives while “insulting and taunting” them.
“The soldiers were also insulting and taunting their captives, and every time they said something Ali, who is only 15, would respond with a comment. One of the soldiers decided to attack him for his response and went to hit him, at which point Hamid tried to shield Ali with his own body. Hamid was hit on the head twice with the butt of a rifle. That was the last time anyone heard Hamid speak or move. Ali mentioned that he saw Hamid’s eyes rolling and he died soon afterwards.”
By the time they were taken to hospital, Ahmad’s body was starting to get cold while Hamid body was already stiff. They were both dead.
The report said that evidence by Gilbert Uwadia, the medical Director of St Luke Catholic Hospital, confirmed that the victim had clean laceration on their bodies which probably had been inflicted on them by the bayonet on the AK 47 rifles the soldiers carried.
July 26: second day of massacre
Not satisfied with the bloodbath of the previous day, the report said soldiers in three trucks approached a gathering of sympathisers outside the Husainiyyah Baqiyyatullah, resident of the sect leader, and without any warning whatsoever started shooting the crowd at close range.
Two people were killed and seven others were injured in the attack.
IHRC said the police were not involved in the incident of July 25 and refused to take the captive from the army. It wondered why the army was involved in an incident it itself tagged a civil disturbance, which was a responsibility of the police.
It also added that the fact that senior military officers were not aware of the attack indicated that it was a special operation carried out by a select few.
The report also noted that despite the army’s claim that soldiers were fired upon, no soldier was killed or injured in the attacks.
IHRC said that judging by the history of extrajudicial killing by the Nigerian military, a third party independent of the Nigerian Government and military should investigate the attack with the aim of unravelling what happened.