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Panic grips Abuja as Shiites march today

By Igho Akeregha, Kanayo Umeh (Abuja) and Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna)
29 October 2018   |   4:19 am
Residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are worried about the probable outcome of today’s Arbaeen Trek by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (also known as Shiites)...

[FILE PHOTO] Northern Nigerian city of Kano shows protesters from the pro-Iranian Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) marching in the rain through the streets to press for the release of their leader Ibrahim Zakzaky and his wife Zeenat.<br />Northern Nigeria, already devastated by Boko Haram Islamist group attacks, slides into another conflict, with Iran and Saudi Arabia waging war remotely on its territory through the Izala and IMN groups, AFP reported on November 5, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / AMINU ABUBAKAR

Residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are worried about the probable outcome of today’s Arbaeen Trek by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (also known as Shiites).

Saturday’s edition of the yearly event turned deadly as some members of the sect were killed during a confrontation with men of the Nigerian Army.

Last year, two people were reportedly killed when members of the organisation and the police faced off in Kano during a similar procession.

The police denied any life was lost. A 2016 edition, also in Kano, was said to have left many people and a police officer dead.

The march which also took place yesterday was without confrontation with security operatives but the procession caused apprehension among the population.

Packing flags with Arabic inscriptions, thousands of the sect’s members defied heavy rains and stomped through the busy Kubwa-Zuba highway, heads adorned with red and green bands.

The Abuja Peace and Development Initiative earlier yesterday raised the alarm over an alleged plan by the sect to unleash violence on the nation’s capital. It alerted security agencies to act decisively.

It also warned that alleged IMN’s fighters were on their way to the city, describing them as an invading force and not pilgrims on a trek.

“IMN plans multi-locations attacks and protests to renew demand for (the release of) their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who is standing trial before a court in Kaduna state. Using the demand for El-Zakzaky’s release is therefore a ruse since they should have taken their trek, procession or protests to Kaduna State where their leader is being tried and not disturb the peace of Abuja,” said president of the Initiative, Rev. Aaron Audu, in a statement yesterday.

Mohammed Inusa, a fruit seller in Zuba told The Guardian he would stay at home today to forestall any trouble.

One Kingsley Besong, who lives in Gwarimpa Estate, said many of his co-tenants have decided they would not leave home until they are sure the coast is clear.

On his part, Peter Awhensebe, a retired military officer who lives in Nyanya, near the scene of Saturday’s clash, said he had instructed his family to remain indoors to avert any unpleasant situation.

But FCT police spokesman, Anjuguri Manzah, said residents had no reason to panic.

“Following trending social media messages that Islamic Movement of Nigeria is planning a major procession into the Federal Capital Territory, the FCT police command wishes to reassure members of the public that it has deployed both uniformed and plainclothes operatives at strategic points to forestall any breakdown of law and order,” Manzah said.

According to him, adequate security measures have been put in place to protect life and property and ensure a free vehicular movement in and out of the FCT. He therefore urged members of the public to go about their lawful activities.

A video meanwhile emerged online yesterday purportedly showing men of the Nigerian Army opening fire on what appeared to be IMN members. The upsetting two minute-thirty-five second clip opened on a gridlocked road. Some youths could be seen hurling objects at three armed soldiers who seemed uncertain whether to flee, duck for cover, or shoot. Chaos set in, as some passers-by and motorists fled the area.

Voices, in Hausa and English, could be heard saying, among other things: “Rush at them!” As the soldiers readied their rifles in a seeming attempt to shoot or possibly scare away the determined attackers, a voice could be heard saying: “It’s a lie! It’s a lie!” A shot rang out, followed by more shots. Military reinforcement arrived and bullets poured.

At least, two persons appeared to have been shot. It is not known whether passers-by were hit by stray bullets or sustained injuries in the pandemonium.

There are conflicting accounts on what transpired between the military and the religious organisation on Saturday.

“Troops of Army Headquarters Garrison on official duty escorting ammunition and missiles from Abuja to Army Central Ammunition Depot in Kaduna State were attacked by some members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) sect at Zuba Bridge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) at about 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 27, 2018,” said a statement by the Commander Army Headquarters Garrison, Major General James Myam yesterday.

The statement reads in part: “The sect who were supposedly in a procession, established an illegal road block denying motorists free passage. When the troops’ convoy attempted to clear the roadblock, they met stiff opposition from the sect. Members of the sect used various objects to barricade the road and also pelted the troops with stones and other dangerous items. They smashed both military and civilian vehicles’ windscreens and windows.

“They also attempted to overrun the escorts to cart away the ammunition and missiles the troops were escorting. This led to the troops opening fire to extricate themselves. Consequently, troops of 102 Guards Battalion, in whose area of responsibility the incident occurred, rushed to the convoy’s rescue.

“Unfortunately, during the encounter three members of the sect were killed while two soldiers sustained various degrees of injuries and are being treated at a military medical facility.”

The Islamic Movement however dismissed the army’s claim as “false, unsubstantiated, and mischievous”.

It described the account as an attempt to “justify the bestiality they meted out to the innocent, unarmed members of the Islamic Movement on Saturday, while carrying out their solemn religious duty of Arbaeen mourning procession at Zuba.”

The group’s spokesman, Ibrahim Musa, in a counter-statement said: “These age-long, worn-out malevolent storylines are no longer being believed by members of the public because, over time, the Islamic Movement has convincingly demonstrated its peaceful disposition while conducting its religious obligations, even in the face of extreme official persecution.

“It is not their nature to attack security agents, government property or fellow citizens during their protests. The Nigerian Army should please find other storylines, but certainly not these.

“What was witnessed on Saturday was done in broad daylight and in full glare of the public. Video clips of both the procession prior to the unprovoked, brutal attacks and of the fierce attacks by soldiers at unarmed people scrambling for cover while the soldiers take deliberate steps to seek them and shoot them dead are all in the public domain.

“Therefore, the government and its army cannot confuse members of the public by going further with their campaign of calumny and false propaganda with a view to maligning the movement and its leadership.

“The public is led to believe that the government and its army are resorting to these vicious campaigns in desperation. Yet, they would never wish away or bury their crimes against humanity.”